If there’s one common thread that runs through all of humanity, it’s that we all strive to live lives of happiness.
But when it comes right down to it, is happiness the right word?
Perhaps the ancient greeks had a clearer view of what we all strive for. Aristotle, Plato, and other stars of antiquity used the word ‘eudaimonia’ — which translates as human flourishing.
Takeaway: Is eudaimonia a more accurate description of our goal; compared to happiness?
I believe living a joyful life is not all about smiley faces and rainbows. I believe a great deal of fulfillment can also be drawn from the struggles we go through to achieve our full potential.
Does happiness measure up?
Today, when we try to articulate the purpose of our lives, most of us gravitate towards the word happiness in some manner. We tell ourselves and others that the ultimate reason for our jobs, our relationships, and how we live our day-to-day lives is a pursuit for happiness.
And while that may sound like an innocent enough idea, could it be that an excessive reliance on the term happiness causes us to unfairly abandon or at least question situations that may be uncomfortable, yet worthwhile.
The Greek Point-of-View
Based on writings handed down through the centuries, the ancient Greeks did not believe happiness was the purpose of life — they believed it was to achieve eudaimonia. A word which could also be translated as fulfillment. And one of the things that distinguishes fulfillment from happiness is the acceptance of pain.
Value in Suffering
Have you ever felt a sense of pride or accomplishment after completing something difficult? Maybe a college degree, or getting into better physical condition, or even climbing a mountain.
That’s because it’s possible to feel fulfilled while experiencing an unfortable situation. We can derive fulfillment while suffering — whether it’s pressure, overwhelm, or physical exhaustion. This is a psychological nuance that the word happiness doesn’t really capture — it’s difficult to speak of being happy yet unhappy, or happy yet suffering.
However, such a paradox is easily accepted within eudaimonia. It encourages us to trust that many of life’s most worthwhile endeavors will, at times, be at odds with being happy — yet well worth the pursuit.
Pushing our boundaries, exploring our professional talents, managing a household, keeping a relationship going, creating a new business venture, or engaging in politics — none of these goals are likely to leave us cheerful and grinning on a daily basis. They will, in-fact, put us through all manner of challenges — challenges that will deeply try, frustrate, provoke, and even wound us.
And yet, at the end of our lives, those could be some of our proudest moments. Through those challenges we’ll have accessed something grander and more meaningful than happiness — perhaps we’ll have made a difference.
Part of Something Bigger
Through the pursuit of eudaimonia, we can stop imagining that we’re aiming for a pain-free existence. And stop berating ourselves unfairly for being in a bad mood. We’ll know that we’re trying to do something far more important than smile all the time.
We’re striving to do justice to our full potential, and to work in some small — but important — way towards creating a greater good.