Comparing Hedonic & Eudaimonic Views of Happiness

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  • 0:00 What Is Happiness?
  • 1:17 Hedonic Happiness
  • 2:46 Eudaimonic Happiness
  • 4:04 A Mixed Approach
  • 5:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Happiness is an incredibly subjective idea, which is why it can be very difficult to analyze in any useful way. Through this lesson, you will learn about the two ways in which the subject is often explored and how they differ from one another.

What Is Happiness?

How do you know what will make you happy or what it will take to get to that point? This is a big question that people spend most of their lives grappling with, but it's also mostly subjective. For example, what it takes to make one person happy might also make someone else very unhappy. Indeed, this is a truly complex concept, but there is a way of breaking it down to be a little more accessible.

The first step to understanding happiness might actually be to do away with that word altogether. Happiness is so subjective a term that it is virtually useless in attempting to understand what makes a person feel fulfilled or satisfied. A better way of framing it might be to use the term well-being, which is the extent to which a person feels comfortable, healthy, and satisfied with his life.

Happiness and well-being might seem like nearly identical terms, but consider this: a person might use drugs or alcohol to feel happy, but this is short-term and has serious consequences for his physical and mental health that will likely lead to unhappiness. Given that, when people use the term 'happy' what they're really referring to is a state of well-being.

Hedonic Happiness

In a very broad sense, there are two ways that people tend to go about achieving happiness or well-being. The first is the hedonic approach, which originated with the Greek philosopher Aristippus. From his perspective, a person's main objective in life was to experience as much pleasure as possible while generally avoiding any painful experiences.

For instance, some people associate happiness with having lots of material wealth and spending as much time as they can socializing with friends. For these people, happiness could be achieved through buying things, going out to restaurants or bars, and generally having fun. In the case of the hedonic approach, the objective is to spend as much time having fun and as little time as possible doing things that aren't fun, pain avoidance, like working and engaging in boring or tedious tasks.

When it comes to a person's well-being, some critics argue that the hedonic approach is a logical fallacy, meaning that there is a flaw in the person's reasoning. Their criticism is based on the idea that a purely hedonic pursuit of happiness doesn't necessarily contribute to a person's overall well-being. For instance, someone could pursue pleasurable experiences by abusing alcohol, engaging in risky sexual behavior, or partaking in dangerous activities like skydiving. These activities can provide momentary pleasure, but they do not always contribute to well-being and might actually have negative consequences in the future.

Eudaimonic Happiness

In response to Aristippus' hedonic approach to happiness, Greek philosopher Aristotle offered an alternative that he referred to as the eudaimonic approach to well-being. Aristotle found the idea of happiness, at least as it was described by Aristippus, to be a crass concept.

From his perspective, just because a person can do something and it may lead to pleasure, that doesn't mean that it should be done or would contribute to well-being. A eudaimonic approach, on the other hand, was the pursuit of personal fulfillment and a realizing of man's potential. Volunteering to help others, for example, would improve well-being because it is contributing to one's own community. Likewise, the pursuit of knowledge is also eudaimonic because it makes a person more capable and well-informed.

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