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Title: Eudaimonia  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Epicureanism, Happiness, Cynicism (philosophy), Ataraxia, Nicomachean Ethics
Collection: Classical Greek Philosophy, Concepts in Ethics, Epicureanism, Happiness, Positive Psychology, Theology, Virtue Ethics
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Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία ), sometimes anglicized as eudaemonia or eudemonia , is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing" has been proposed as a more accurate translation.[1] Etymologically, it consists of the words "eu" ("good") and "daimōn" ("spirit"). It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms "aretē", most often translated as "virtue" or "excellence", and "phronesis", often translated as "practical or ethical wisdom".[2] In Aristotle's works, eudaimonia was (based on older Greek tradition) used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved.

Discussion of the links between virtue of character (ethikē aretē) and happiness (eudaimonia) is one of the central concerns of ancient ethics, and a subject of much disagreement. As a result there are many varieties of eudaimonism. Two of the most influential forms are those of Aristotle[3] and the Stoics. Aristotle takes virtue and its exercise to be the most important constituent in eudaimonia but acknowledges also the importance of external goods such as health, wealth, and beauty. By contrast, the Stoics make virtue necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia and thus deny the necessity of external goods.[4]


  • Definition 1
  • Main views on eudaimonia and its relation to aretē 2
    • Socrates 2.1
    • Plato 2.2
    • Aristotle 2.3
    • Epicurus 2.4
    • The Stoics 2.5
  • Eudaimonia and modern moral philosophy 3
  • Eudaimonia and modern psychology 4
    • Parenting & Eudaimonia 4.1
    • Self-Acceptance 4.2
    • Purpose in Life 4.3
    • Eudaimonia in Adolescence 4.4
    • Genetics 4.5
  • Etymology and translation 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


The Definitions, a dictionary of Greek philosophical terms attributed to Plato himself but believed by modern scholars to have been written by his immediate followers in the Academy, provides the following definition of the word eudaimonia:

The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, (§21; 1095a15–22) Aristotle says that everyone agrees that eudaimonia is the highest good for human beings, but that there is substantial disagreement on what sort of life counts as doing and living well; i.e. eudaimon:

Verbally there is a very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is [eudaimonia], and identify living well and faring well with being happy; but with regard to what [eudaimonia] is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing like pleasure, wealth or honour… [1095a17][5]

So, as Aristotle points out, saying that eudaimon life is a life which is objectively desirable, and means living well, is not saying very much. Everyone wants to be eudaimon; and everyone agrees that being eudaimon is related to faring well and to an individual’s well being. The really difficult question is to specify just what sort of activities enable one to live well. Aristotle presents various popular conceptions of the best life for human beings. The candidates that he mentions are a (1) life of pleasure, (2) a life of political activity and (3) a philosophical life.

One important move in Greek philosophy to answer the question of how to achieve eudaimonia is to bring in another important concept in ancient philosophy, "arete" ("virtue"). Aristotle says that the eudaimon life is one of “virtuous activity in accordance with reason” [1097b22–1098a20]. And even Epicurus who argues that the eudaimon life is the life of pleasure maintains that the life of pleasure coincides with the life of virtue. So the ancient ethical theorists tend to agree that virtue is closely bound up with happiness (areté is bound up with eudaimonia). However, they disagree on the way in which this is so. We shall consider the main theories in a moment, but first a warning about the proper translation of areté.

As already noted, the Greek word areté is usually translated into English as virtue. One problem with this is that we are inclined to understand virtue in a moral sense, which is not always what the ancients had in mind. For a Greek, areté pertains to all sorts of qualities we would not regard as relevant to ethics, for example, physical beauty. So it is important to bear in mind that the sense of ‘virtue’ operative in ancient ethics is not exclusively moral and includes more than states such as wisdom, courage and compassion. The sense of virtue which areté connotes would include saying something like "speed is a virtue in a horse", or "height is a virtue in a basketball player". Doing anything well requires virtue, and each characteristic activity (such as carpentry, flute playing, etc.) has its own set of virtues. The alternative translation excellence (or "a desirable quality") might be helpful in conveying this general meaning of the term. The moral virtues are simply a subset of the general sense in which a human being is capable of functioning well or excellently.

Main views on eudaimonia and its relation to aretē


Picture of a painting.
French painter David portrayed the philosopher in The Death of Socrates (1787).

What we know of Socrates' philosophy is almost entirely derived from Plato’s writings. Scholars typically divide Plato’s works into three periods: the early, middle, and late periods. They tend to agree also that Plato’s earliest works quite faithfully represent the teachings of Socrates and that Plato’s own views, which go beyond those of Socrates, appear for the first time in the middle works such as the Phaedo and the Republic. This division will be employed here in dividing up the positions of Socrates and Plato on eudaimonia.

As with all other ancient ethical thinkers Socrates thought that all human beings wanted eudaimonia more than anything else. (see Plato, Apology 30b, Euthydemus 280d–282d, Meno 87d–89a). However, Socrates adopted a quite radical form of eudaimonism (see above): he seems to have thought that virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. Socrates is convinced that virtues such as self-control, courage, justice, piety, wisdom and related qualities of mind and soul are absolutely crucial if a person is to lead a good and happy (eudaimon) life. Virtues guarantee a happy life eudaimonia. For example, in the Meno, with respect to wisdom, he says: “… everything the soul endeavours or endures under the guidance of wisdom ends in happiness…”[Meno 88c].

In the Apology, Socrates clearly presents his disagreement with those who think that the eudaimon life is the life of honour or pleasure, when he chastises the Athenians for caring more for riches and honour than the state of their souls.

Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth or the best possible state of your soul [29e].[6]
… it does not seem like human nature for me to have neglected all my own affairs and to have tolerated this neglect for so many years while I was always concerned with you, approaching each one of you like a father or an elder brother to persuade you to care for virtue. [31a–b; italics added]

It emerges a bit further on that this concern for one’s soul, that one’s soul might be in the best possible state, amounts to acquiring moral virtue. So Socrates’ point that the Athenians should care for their souls means that they should care for their virtue, rather than pursuing honour or riches. Virtues are states of the soul. When a soul has been properly cared for and perfected it possesses the virtues. Moreover, according to Socrates, this state of the soul, moral virtue, is the most important good. The health of the soul is incomparably more important for eudaimonia than (e.g.) wealth and political power. Someone with a virtuous soul is better off than someone who is wealthy and honoured but whose soul is corrupted by unjust actions. This view is confirmed in the Crito, where Socrates gets Crito to agree that the perfection of the soul, virtue, is the most important good:

And is life worth living for us with that part of us corrupted that unjust action harms and just action benefits? Or do we think that part of us, whatever it is, that is concerned with justice and injustice, is inferior to the body? Not at all. It is much more valuable…? Much more… (47e–48a)

Here Socrates argues that life is not worth living if the soul is ruined by wrongdoing.[7] In summary, Socrates seems to think that virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. A person who is not virtuous cannot be happy, and a person with virtue cannot fail to be happy. We shall see later on that Stoic ethics takes its cue from this Socratic insight.


Plato’s great work of the middle period, the Republic, is devoted to answering a challenge made by the Nietzsche.) Throughout the rest of the Republic, Plato aims to refute this claim by showing that the virtue of justice is necessary for eudaimonia.

The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right)

The argument of the Republic is lengthy and complex. In brief, Plato argues that virtues are states of the soul, and that the just person is someone whose soul is ordered and harmonious, with all its parts functioning properly to the person’s benefit. In contrast, Plato argues that the unjust man’s soul, without the virtues, is chaotic and at war with itself, so that even if he were able to satisfy most of his desires, his lack of inner harmony and unity thwart any chance he has of achieving eudaimonia. Plato’s ethical theory is eudaimonistic because it maintains that eudaimonia depends on virtue. On Plato’s version of the relationship, virtue is depicted as the most crucial and the dominant constituent of eudaimonia.


Aristotle’s account is articulated in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics. In outline, for Aristotle, eudaimonia involves activity, exhibiting virtue (aretē sometimes translated as excellence) in accordance with reason. This conception of eudaimonia derives from Aristotle’s essentialist understanding of human nature, the view that reason (logos sometimes translated as rationality) is unique to human beings and that the ideal function or work (ergon) of a human being is the fullest or most perfect exercise of reason. Basically, well being (eudaimonia) is gained by proper development of one's highest and most human capabilities and human beings are "the rational animal". It follows that eudaimonia for a human being is the attainment of excellence (areté) in reason.

According to Aristotle, eudaimonia actually requires activity, action, so that it is not sufficient for a person to possess a squandered ability or disposition. Eudaimonia requires not only good character but rational activity. Aristotle clearly maintains that to live in accordance with reason means achieving excellence thereby. Moreover, he claims this excellence cannot be isolated and so competencies are also required appropriate to related functions. For example, if being a truly outstanding scientist requires impressive math skills, one might say "doing mathematics well is necessary to be a first rate scientist". From this it follows that eudaimonia, living well, consists in activities exercising the rational part of the psyche in accordance with the virtues or excellency of reason [1097b22–1098a20]. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulfilling work at which one achieves well-earned success. The rest of the Nicomachean Ethics is devoted to filling out the claim that the best life for a human being is the life of excellence in accordance with reason. Since reason for Aristotle is not only theoretical but practical as well, he spends quite a bit of time discussing excellence of character, which enables a person to exercise his practical reason (i.e., reason relating to action) successfully.

Aristotle’s ethical theory is eudaimonist because it maintains that eudaimonia depends on virtue. However, it is Aristotle’s explicit view that virtue is necessary but not sufficient for eudaimonia. While emphasizing the importance of the rational aspect of the psyche, he does not ignore the importance of other ‘goods’ such as friends, wealth, and power in a life that is eudaimonic. He doubts the likelihood of being eudaimonic if one lacks certain external goods such as ‘good birth, good children, and beauty’. So, a person who is hideously ugly or has “lost children or good friends through death” (1099b5–6), or who is isolated, is unlikely to be eudaimon. In this way, "dumb luck" (chance) can preempt one's attainment of eudaimonia.


Sculpture of a face.
Epicurus identified eudaimonia with the life of pleasure.

Epicurus’ ethical theory is hedonistic. (His view proved very influential on the founders and best proponents of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.) Hedonism is the view that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that pain is the only intrinsic bad. An object, experience or state of affairs is intrinsically valuable if it is good simply because of what it is. Intrinsic value is to be contrasted with instrumental value. An object, experience or state of affairs is instrumentally valuable if it serves as a means to what is intrinsically valuable. To see this, consider the following example. Suppose you spend your days and nights in an office, working at not entirely pleasant activities, such as entering data into a computer, and this, all for money. Someone asks, “why do you want the money?” and you answer, “So, I can buy an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean, and a red Ferrari.” This answer expresses the point that money is instrumentally valuable because it is a means to getting your apartment and red Ferrari. The value of making money is dependent on the value of commodities. It is instrumentally valuable: valuable only because of what one obtains by means of it.

Epicurus identifies the eudaimon life with the life of pleasure. He understands eudaimonia as a more or less continuous experience of pleasure, and also, freedom from pain and distress. But it is important to notice that Epicurus does not advocate that one pursue any and every pleasure. Rather, he recommends a policy whereby pleasures are maximized “in the long run.” In other words, Epicurus claims that some pleasures are not worth having because they lead to greater pains, and some pains are worthwhile when they lead to greater pleasures. The best strategy for attaining a maximal amount of pleasure overall is not to seek instant gratification but to work out a sensible long term policy.

Ancient Greek ethics is eudaimonist because it links virtue and eudaimonia, where eudaimonia refers to an individual’s (objective) well being. Epicurus' doctrine can be considered eudaimonist since Epicurus argues that a life of pleasure will coincide with a life of virtue. He believes that we do and ought to seek virtue because virtue brings pleasure. Epicurus’ basic doctrine is that a life of virtue is the life which generates the most amount of pleasure, and it is for this reason that we ought to be virtuous. This thesis—the eudaimon life is the pleasurable life—is not a tautology as “eudaimonia is the good life” would be: rather, it is the substantive and controversial claim that a life of pleasure and absence of pain is what eudaimonia consists in.

One important difference between Epicurus’ eudaimonism and that of Plato and Aristotle is that for the latter virtue is a constituent of eudaimonia, whereas Epicurus makes virtue a means to happiness. To this difference, consider Aristotle’s theory. Aristotle maintains that eudaimonia is what everyone wants (and Epicurus would agree). He also thinks that eudaimonia is best achieved by a life of virtuous activity in accordance with reason. The virtuous person takes pleasure in doing the right thing as a result of a proper training of moral and intellectual character (See e.g., Nicomachean Ethics 1099a5). However, Aristotle does not think that virtuous activity is pursued for the sake of pleasure. Pleasure is a byproduct of virtuous action: it does not enter at all into the reasons why virtuous action is virtuous. Aristotle does not think that we literally aim for eudaimonia. Rather, eudaimonia is what we achieve (assuming that we aren’t particularly unfortunate in the possession of external goods) when we live according to the requirements of reason. Virtue is the largest constituent in a eudaimon life. By contrast, Epicurus holds that virtue is the means to achieve happiness. His theory is eudaimonist in that he holds that virtue is indispensable to happiness; but virtue is not a constituent of a eudaimon life, and being virtuous is not (external goods aside) identical with being eudaimon. Rather, according to Epicurus, virtue is only instrumentally related to happiness. So whereas Aristotle would not say that one ought to aim for virtue in order to attain pleasure, Epicurus would endorse this claim.

The Stoics

Zeno, thought happiness was a "good flow of life."

Stoic philosophy begins with Zeno of Citium c.300 BCE, and was developed by Cleanthes (331–232 BCE) and Chrysippus (c.280–c.206 BCE) into a formidable systematic unity.[8] Zeno believed happiness was a "good flow of life"; Cleanthes suggested it was "living in agreement with nature", and Chrysippus believed it was "living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature."[8] Stoic ethics is a particularly strong version of eudaimonism. According to the Stoics, virtue is necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. (This thesis is generally regarded as stemming from the Socrates of Plato’s earlier dialogues.) We saw earlier that the conventional Greek concept of arete is not quite the same as that denoted by virtue, which has Christian connotations of charity, patience, and uprightness, since arete includes many non-moral virtues such as physical strength and beauty. However, the Stoic concept of arete is much nearer to the Christian conception of virtue, which refers to the moral virtues. However, unlike Christian understandings of virtue, righteousness or piety, the Stoic conception does not place as great an emphasis on mercy, forgiveness, self-abasement (i.e. the ritual process of declaring complete powerlessness and humility before God), charity and self-sacrificial love, though these behaviors/mentalities are not necessarily spurned by the Stoics (they are spurned by some other philosophers of Antiquity). Rather Stoicism emphasizes states such as justice, honesty, moderation, simplicity, self-discipline, resolve, fortitude, and courage (states which Christianity also encourages).

The Stoics make a radical claim that the eudaimon life is the morally virtuous life. Moral virtue is good, and moral vice is bad, and everything else, such as health, honour and riches, are merely ‘neutral’.[8] The Stoics therefore are committed to saying that external goods such as wealth and physical beauty are not really good at all. Moral virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. In this, they are akin to Cynic philosophers such as Antisthenes and Diogenes in denying the importance to eudaimonia of external goods and circumstances, such as were recognized by Aristotle, who thought that severe misfortune (such as the death of one’s family and friends) could rob even the most virtuous person of eudaimonia. This Stoic doctrine re-emerges later in the history of ethical philosophy in the writings of Immanuel Kant, who argues that the possession of a "good will" is the only unconditional good. One difference is that whereas the Stoics regard external goods as neutral, as neither good nor bad, Kant’s position seems to be that external goods are good, but only so far as they are a condition to achieving happiness.

Eudaimonia and modern moral philosophy

Interest in the concept of eudaimonia and ancient ethical theory more generally enjoyed a revival in the twentieth century. G. E. M. Anscombe in her article "Modern Moral Philosophy" (1958) argued that duty-based conceptions of morality are conceptually incoherent for they are based on the idea of a "law without a lawgiver".[9] She claims a system of morality conceived along the lines of the Ten Commandments depends on someone having made these rules.[10] Anscombe recommends a return to the eudaimonistic ethical theories of the ancients, particularly Aristotle, which ground morality in the interests and well being of human moral agents, and can do so without appealing to any such lawgiver.

Julia Driver in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:

Anscombe's article Modern Moral Philosophy stimulated the development of virtue ethics as an alternative to Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics, and Social Contract theories. Her primary charge in the article is that, as secular approaches to moral theory, they are without foundation. They use concepts such as ‘morally ought,’ ‘morally obligated,’ ‘morally right,’ and so forth that are legalistic and require a legislator as the source of moral authority. In the past God occupied that role, but systems that dispense with God as part of the theory are lacking the proper foundation for meaningful employment of those concepts.[11]

Eudaimonia and modern psychology

Models of eudaimonia in psychology emerged from early work on self-actualisation and the means of its accomplishment by researchers such as Erikson, Allport, and Maslow.[12] The psychologist C. D. Ryff highlighted the distinction between eudaimonia wellbeing, which she identified as psychological well-being, and hedonic wellbeing or pleasure. Building on Aristotelian ideals of belonging and benefiting others, flourishing, thriving and exercising excellence, she conceptualised eudaimonia as a six-factor structure :

  1. Autonomy
  2. Personal growth
  3. Self-acceptance
  4. Purpose in life
  5. Environmental mastery
  6. Positive relations with others.

Ryff’s six-factor model of eudaimonic well-being describes the six aspects of positive functioning that an individual who strives to lead a fulfilled life must endorse.[13] She states that the pursuit and acquisition of positive relationships is an intrinsically motivated desire that is endorsed cross-culturally as a route to being void of ill-being as well as leading a meaningful life.

The results of a study conducted in the early 90s exploring the relationship between well-being and those aspects of positive functioning that were put forth in Ryff’s model, indicate that persons who aspired more for financial success relative to affiliation with others or their community scored lower on various measures of well-being.[14]

Individuals that strive for a life defined by affiliation, intimacy and contributing to one’s community can be described as aspiring to fulfil their intrinsic psychological needs. In contrast those individuals who aspire for wealth and material, social recognition, fame, image or attractiveness can be described as aiming to fulfil their extrinsic psychological needs. The strength of an individual’s intrinsic (relative to extrinsic) aspirations as indicated by rankings of importance correlates with an array of psychological outcomes. Positive correlations have been found with indications of psychological well-being: positive affect, vitality, and self-actualization. Negative correlations have been found with indicators of psychological ill-being: negative affect, depression and anxiety.[15]

A more recent study confirming Ryff’s notion of maintaining positive relations with others as a way of leading a meaningful life involved comparing levels of self-reported life satisfaction and subjective well-being (positive/negative affect). Results suggested that individuals whose actions had underlying eudaimonic tendencies as indicated by their self-reports (e.g., I seek out situations that challenge my skills and abilities) were found to possess higher subjective well-being and life satisfaction scores compared to participants who did not.[16] Individuals were grouped according to their chosen paths/strategies to happiness as identified by their answers on an Orientation to Happiness Questionnaire.[17] The questionnaire describes and differentiates individuals on the basis of three orientations to happiness which can be pursued, though some individuals do not pursue any. The “pleasure” orientation describes a path to happiness that is associated with adopting hedonistic life goals to satisfy only one’s extrinsic needs. Engagement and meaning orientations describe a pursuit of happiness that integrates two positive psychology constructs “flow/engagement” and “eudaimonia/meaning”. Both of the latter orientations are also associated with aspiring to meet intrinsic needs for affiliation and community and were amalgamated by Anić and Tončić into a single “eudaimonic” path to happiness that elicited high scores on all measures of well-being and life satisfaction.

Importantly, she also produced scales for assessing mental health.[12]

This factor structure has been debated,[18][19] but has generated much research in wellbeing, health and successful aging.

Parenting & Eudaimonia

The subject of eudaimonia and the link between one’s behavior from childhood & into adulthood is a new area of research in the field of positive psychology. In the last decade researchers have been interested in the link between the behavior of one’s parents and parenting techniques when one was a child; and if their parents had either verbally endorsed eudaimonia or actually role modeled it by pursuing eudaimonia themselves.

Researchers implemented the Huta & Ryan Scale: Four Eudaimonic Measurement Questionnaire to analyze the participants eudaimonic motives, through motivation towards activities. The investigation was conducted on Canadian university undergraduates.

The four eudaimonic pursuits as described by Huta & Ryan are: 1. “Seeking to pursue excellence or a personal ideal” 2. “Seeking to use the best in yourself” 3. “Seeking to develop a skill, learn, or gain insight into something” 4. “Seeking to do what you believe in".[20]

The study determined that participants derived well-being from eudaimonic pursuits only if their parents had role modeled eudaimonia, but not if their parents had merely verbally endorsed eudaimonia.[21]

Studies were also conducted on responsiveness & demandingness. The studies participants were American university undergraduates. The terms are described as follows; responsiveness satisfies the basic psychological need for autonomy. This is relevant to eudaimonia because it supports and implements the values of initiative, effort, and persistence, and integration of one’s behaviour’s values, and true-self. Autonomy is an important psychological factor because it provides the individual with independence. Demandingness cultivates many of the qualities needed for eudaimonia, including structure, self-discipline, responsibility, and vision. Responsiveness and demandingness are reported to be good aspects of parenting. The studies report both of these qualities as important factors to well-being.[21]

The study addressed parenting style by assessing and using adaptions of Baumrind’s Parent Behaviour Rating Interview. Adaptions of this interview were made into a seventy-five question based survey; participants answered questions organized into fifteen subscales. The study determined that eudaimonically oriented participants reported their parents had been both demanding and responsive towards them. A multiple regression showed that demandingness & responsiveness together explained as much as twenty-eight percent of the variance in eudaimonia, this suggests parenting played a major role in the development of this pursuit. This supported the expectation that eudaimonia is cultivated when parents encourage internal structure, self-discipline, responsibility, and vision, and simultaneously fulfill a child’s needs for autonomy. The research concludes that parents who want their children to experience eudaimonia must firstly themselves ‘mentor’ their children in the approaches to attain eudaimonia. To encourage eudaimonia verbally is not sufficient enough to suffice eudaimonia into adulthood. Parents must clearly role model eudaimonia for it to truly be present in the child’s life.[20]


Definitions & Characteristics

Self-acceptance is one of the six factors in Carol D. Ryff’s structure for eudaimonic well-being. It can be defined as:

  • the awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses,
  • the realistic (yet subjective) appraisal of one’s talents, capabilities, and general worth, and,
  • feelings of satisfaction with one’s self despite deficiencies and regardless of past behaviors and choices.[22][23][24]

A person who scores high on self-acceptance:

  • has a positive self-attitude,
  • acknowledges and accepts all aspects of themselves (including the good and bad),
  • is not self-critical or confused about their identity, and,
  • does not wish they were any different from who they already are.[22][25]

Past & Current Views in Psychology

In the past, the practice of self-acceptance was reproved by the Greeks. However, the need to know about and understand “the self” eventually became an important, underlying point in several psychological theories, such as:

  • Jahoda’s work on mental health,
  • Carl Rogers’ Theory of Personality,
  • Gordon Allport’s Eight Stages of Self (Proprium) Development, and,
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs under the “self-actualization” category.[25]

In addition to that, the life-span theories of Erikson and Neugarten mention the importance of self-acceptance including one’s past life, and Carl Jung’s process of individuation also emphasizes coming to terms with the dark side of one’s self, or “the shadow”.[25]

Relation to Positive Psychology

With respect to positive psychology, self-acceptance, as a component of eudaimonic well-being (EWB), is an indicator and a measure of psychological well-being.[26][27] For instance, Alfred Adler, founder of individual psychology, observed that people who thought of themselves as inferior also observed a depreciation of others.[24]

Psychological Benefits

Some psychological benefits of self-acceptance include mood regulation, a decrease in depressive symptoms, and an increase in positive emotions.[28] An example of this can be seen in a 2014 study that looked at affective profiles. The results yielded suggest that individuals categorized as self-fulfilling (as compared to the other profiles) tended to score higher on all the factors of Ryff’s eudaimonic well-being dimensions (self-acceptance included).[29] In addition to that, self-acceptance (and environmental mastery) specifically and significantly predicted harmony in life across all affective profiles.[29]

Other psychological benefits include:

  • a heightened sense of freedom,
  • a decrease in fear of failure,
  • an increase in self-worth,
  • an increase in independence (autonomy),
  • an increase in self-esteem,
  • less desire to win the approval of others,
  • less self-critique and more self-kindness when mistakes occur,
  • more desire to live life for one’s self (and not others), and,
  • the ability to take more risks without worrying about the consequences.[30]

Self-acceptance is also thought to be necessary for good mental health.[23]

Physical Benefits

In addition to psychological benefits, self-acceptance may have physical benefits as well.[26] For example, the results of a 2008 study propose that older women with higher levels of environmental mastery, positive relations with others, and self-acceptance showed lower levels of glycosylated hemoglobin, which is a marker for glucose levels/insulin resistance.[25]

Purpose in Life

Purpose in life refers broadly to the pursuit of life satisfaction. It has also been found that those with high purpose in life scores have strong goals and sense of direction. They feel there is meaning to their past and present life, and hold beliefs that continue to give their life purpose. Research in the past has focused on purpose in the face of adversity (what is awful, difficult, or absurd in life). Recently, research has shifted to include a focus on the role of purpose in personal fulfillment and self-actualization. Identified here are 3 theoretical approaches to purpose in life, including:

  1. Terror management theory
  2. Self-control
  3. Intrinsic motivation

Terror management theory was originally proposed in 1986 by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski, based on the work of Ernest Becker in 1973.[31] It proposes that we are driven by fear caused by awareness of our own mortality. To alleviate the anxiety, we seek symbolic immortality in works, monuments, offspring, and other outputs. This can be illustrated in the words taken from the Discworld series by author Sir Terry Pratchett “…a man is not dead while his name is still spoken.” [32] Leaving a legacy serves to reduce the fear of death and increase self-esteem by living up to the ideals of society.

The self-control approach, as expounded by C. R. Snyder, focusses on exercising self-control to achieve self-esteem by fulfilling goals and feeling in control of our own success. This is further reinforced by a sense of intentionality in both efforts and outcomes.[33]

The intrinsic motivation approach of Viktor Frankl emphasized finding value in three main areas: creative, experiential, and attitudinal. Creative values are expressed in acts of creating or producing something. Experiential values are actualized through the senses, and may overlap the hedonistic view of happiness. Attitudinal values are prominent for individuals who are unable to pursue the preceding two classes of values. Attitudinal values are believed to be primarily responsible for allowing individuals to endure suffering with dignity.[33]

A personal sense of responsibility is required for the pursuit of the values that give life meaning, but it is the realization that one holds sole responsibility for rendering life meaningful that allows the values to be actualized and life to be given true purpose. Determining what is meaningful for one’s self provides a sense of autonomy and control which promotes self-esteem.[33]

Purpose in life is positively correlated with education level and volunteerism. However, it has also been found to decrease with age. Purpose in life is both highly individual, and what specifically provides purpose will change over the course of one’s lifetime.[34]

All three of the above theories have self-esteem at their core. Self-esteem is often viewed as the most significant measure of psychological well-being, and highly correlated with many life-regulating skills. Purpose in life promotes and is a source of self-esteem; it is not a by-product of self-esteem.

Eudaimonia in Adolescence

There has been a significant focus in past research on adulthood, in regards to well-being and development and although eudaimonia is not a new field of study, there has been little research done in the areas of adolescence and youth. Research that has been done on this age group had previously explored more negative aspects, such as problem and risk behaviours (i.e. drug and alcohol use).

Researchers who conducted a study in 2013 recognized the absence of adolescents in eudaimonic research and the importance of this developmental stage. Adolescents rapidly face cognitive, social and physical changes, making them prime subjects to study for development and well-being. The eudaimonic identity theory was used in their research to examine the development of identity through self-discovery and self-realization. They emphasize the personal value found in discovering and appeasing ones “daimon” (daemon) through subjective experiences that develop eudaimonic happiness from aligning with one’s true self.[35]

Researchers focused their studies on PYD (positive youth development) and the eudaimonic identity theory in the context of 3 developmental elements: self-defining activities, personal expressiveness and goal-directed behaviours.

They determined that adolescents sample multiple self-defining activities; these activities aid in identity formation, as individuals choose activities that they believe represents who they are. These self-defining activities also help determine the adolescent’s social environments. For example, an adolescent involved in sports, would likely surround themselves with like-minded active and competitive people.

Personal expressiveness, as coined by psychologist A. S. Waterman, are the activities that we choose to express and connect with our “daimon” through subjective experiences.[36]

Finally, goal-directed behaviours, are developed through goal setting, where individuals work towards identity establishment. Adolescents recognize their passions, abilities and talents and aim to fulfill their goals and behave in a way that appeases their true self.[37]

The study was conducted in Italy, Chile and the United States, which produced slightly varied outcomes. Outcomes were contingent on availability, access and choice of opportunities (activities).[38] Socioeconomic context also affected the results, as not all individuals could access the activities that may be more in-line with their true selves.

The Personally Expressive Activities Questionnaire (PEAQ) was used to conduct their study. Adolescence was the youngest age group that the PEAQ was used on. The PEAQ asked adolescents to self-report on activities they participate in and describe themselves with self-defining activities.[39] It was reported that 80% of adolescents defined themselves with two to four self-defining activities signifying an understanding in adolescence of self-concept through the domains of leisure, work and academia.[40]

Leisure activities were found to have the largest impact on individuals because these activities were the most self-directed of the three domains, as adolescents had the choice of activity, and were more likely to be able to align it with their true selves. The study found that subjective experiences were more important than the activities themselves and that adolescents reported higher levels of well-being. They reported that when adolescents express themselves through self-defining activities across multiple domains, that they have a clearer image of themselves, what they want to achieve and higher wellness. Goal-setting was found to be a unique predictor; when adolescents work towards goals set by themselves and accomplish them, they are likely to have a clearer emerging identity and higher well-being. Researchers found that more adolescents were happy when they were involved in self-chosen activities because the activities were chosen in line with their true self.[41]


Individual differences in both overall Eudaimonia, identified loosely with self-control and in the facets of eudaimonia are heritable. Evidence from one study supports 5 independent genetic mechanisms underlying the Ryff facets of this trait, leading to a genetic construct of eudaimonia in terms of general self-control, and four subsidiary biological mechanisms enabling the psychological capabilities of purpose, agency, growth, and positive social relations [42]

Etymology and translation

In terms of its etymology, eudaimonia is an abstract noun derived from eu meaning “well” and daimon (daemon), which refers to a minor deity or a guardian spirit.[3]

Eudaimonia implies a positive and divine state of being that humanity is able to strive toward and possibly reach. A literal view of eudaimonia means achieving a state of being similar to benevolent deity, or being protected and looked after by a benevolent deity. As this would be considered the most positive state to be in, the word is often translated as 'happiness' although incorporating the divine nature of the word extends the meaning to also include the concepts of being fortunate, or blessed. Despite this etymology, however, discussions of eudaimonia in ancient Greek ethics are often conducted independently of any super-natural significance.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, (1095a15–22) Aristotle says that eudaimonia means ’doing and living well’. It is significant that synonyms for eudaimonia are living well and doing well. On the standard English translation, this would be to say that ‘happiness is doing well and living well’. The word ‘happiness’ does not entirely capture the meaning of the Greek word. One important difference is that happiness often connotes being or tending to be in a certain pleasant state of consciousness. For example, when we say that someone is “a very happy person,” we usually mean that they seem subjectively contented with the way things are going in their life. We mean to imply that they feel good about the way things are going for them. In contrast, eudaimonia is a more encompassing notion than feeling happy since events that do not contribute to one’s experience of feeling happy may affect one’s eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia depends on all the things that would make us happy if we knew of their existence, but quite independently of whether we do know about them. Ascribing eudaimonia to a person, then, may include ascribing such things as being virtuous, being loved and having good friends. But these are all objective judgments about someone’s life: they concern a person’s really being virtuous, really being loved, and really having fine friends. This implies that a person who has evil sons and daughters will not be judged to be eudaimonic even if he or she does not know that they are evil and feels pleased and contented with the way they have turned out (happy). Conversely, being loved by your children would not count towards your happiness if you did not know that they loved you (and perhaps thought that they did not), but it would count towards your eudaimonia. So eudaimonia corresponds to the idea of having an objectively good or desirable life, to some extent independently of whether one knows that certain things exist or not. It includes conscious experiences of well being, success, and failure, but also a whole lot more. (See Aristotle’s discussion: Nicomachean Ethics, book 1.10–1.11.)

Because of this discrepancy between the meaning of eudaimonia and happiness, some alternative translations have been proposed. W.D. Ross suggests "well-being" and John Cooper proposes "flourishing". These translations may avoid some of the misleading associations carried by "happiness" although each tends to raise some problems of its own. In some modern texts therefore, the other alternative is to leave the term in an English form of the original Greek, as "eudaimonia".

See also


  1. ^ Daniel N. Robinson. (1999). Aristotle's Psychology. Published by Daniel N. Robinson. ISBN 0-9672066-0-X ISBN 978-0967206608
  2. ^ Rosalind Hursthouse (July 18, 2007). "Virtue Ethics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2010-06-05. But although modern virtue ethics does not have to take the form known as "neo-Aristotelian", almost any modern version still shows that its roots are in ancient Greek philosophy by the employment of three concepts derived from it. These are areté (excellence or virtue) phronesis (practical or moral wisdom) and eudaimonia (usually translated as happiness or flourishing.) As modern virtue ethics has grown and more people have become familiar with its literature, the understanding of these terms has increased, but it is still the case that readers familiar only with modern philosophy tend to misinterpret them. 
  3. ^ a b Verena von Pfetten (09-4-08). "5 Things Happy People Do". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-06-05. But researchers now believe that eudaimonic well-being may be more important. Cobbled from the Greek eu ("good") and daimon ("spirit" or "deity"), eudaimonia means striving toward excellence based on one's unique talents and potential—Aristotle considered it to be the noblest goal in life. In his time, the Greeks believed that each child was blessed at birth with a personal daimon embodying the highest possible expression of his or her nature. One way they envisioned the daimon was as a golden figurine that would be revealed by cracking away an outer layer of cheap pottery (the person's baser exterior). The effort to know and realize one's most golden self—"personal growth," in today's vernacular—is now the central concept of eudaimonia, which has also come to include continually taking on new challenges and fulfilling one's sense of purpose in life. 
  4. ^ Klein, Jacob (2012). Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza. OUP USA. pp. 63–64.  
  5. ^ Aristotle, also David Ross, Lesley Brown (1980). "The Nicomachean Ethics". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2010-06-05. Verbally there is very general agreement, for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement... 
  6. ^ Uncertain (19 September 2008). "How "God" functioned in Socrates' life". DD:Religion. Retrieved 2010-06-05. Men of Athens, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy, to exhort you and in my usual way to point out to any of you whom I happen to meet: "Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?" 
  7. ^ Richard Parry (Aug 7, 2009). "Ancient Ethical Theory". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2010-06-05. Socrates says that a man worth anything at all does not reckon whether his course of action endangers his life or threatens death. He looks only at one thing — whether what he does is just or not, the work of a good or of a bad man (28b–c). 
  8. ^ a b c Dirk Baltzly (Feb 7, 2008). "Stoicism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2010-06-05. But what is happiness? The Epicureans' answer was deceptively straightforward: the happy life is the one which is most pleasant. (But their account of what the highest pleasure consists in was not at all straightforward.) Zeno's answer was "a good flow of life" (Arius Didymus, 63A) or "living in agreement", and Cleanthes clarified that with the formulation that the end was "living in agreement with nature" (Arius Didymus, 63B). Chrysippus amplified this to (among other formulations) "living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature"; later Stoics inadvisably, in response to Academic attacks, substituted such formulations as "the rational selection of the primary things according to nature." The Stoics' specification of what happiness consists in cannot be adequately understood apart from their views about value and human psychology. 
  9. ^ "The ethics of virtue: The Ethics of Virtue and the Ethics of Right Action". 2010-06-05. Retrieved 2010-06-05. legalistic ethics rest on the incoherent notion of a "law" without a lawgiver: DCT unacceptable; and the alternative sources of moral "legislation" are inadequate substitutes 
  10. ^ G. E. M. Anscombe (January 1958). "Modern Moral Philosophy". Philosophy 33, No. 124. Retrieved 2010-06-05. Originally published in Philosophy 33, No. 124 (January 1958). ... The first is that it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology, in which we are conspicuously lacking. The second is that the concepts of obligation, and duty—moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say—and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of "ought", ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it. My third thesis is that the differences between the well‑known English writers on moral philosophy from Sidgwick to the present day are of little importance. 
  11. ^ Julia Driver (Jul 21, 2009). "Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe: 5.1 Virtue Ethics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2010-06-05. In the past God occupied that role, but systems that dispense with God as part of the theory are lacking the proper foundation for meaningful employment of those concepts. 
  12. ^ a b C. D. Ryff. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069-1081.
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  14. ^ Kasser, Tim; Ryan, Richard M. (1993). "A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration". Journal of personality and social psychology 65 (2): 410–422.  
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  23. ^ a b Shepard, Lorrie A. (1978). "Self-Acceptance: The Evaluative Component of the Self-Concept Construct". American Educational Research Journal 16 (2): 139.  
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Further reading

  • Ackrill, J. L. (1981) Aristotle the Philosopher. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-289118-9
  • Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958) Modern Moral Philosophy. Philosophy 33; repr. in G.E.M. Anscombe (1981), vol. 3, 26–42.
  • Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics, translated by Martin Oswald (1962). New York: The Bobs-Merrill Company.
  • Aristotle. The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. 1 and 2, rev. ed. Jonathan Barnes, ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1984]. Bollingen Foundation, 1995. ASIN: B000J0HP5E
  • Broadie, Sarah W. (1991) Ethics with Aristotle. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ASIN: B000VM6T34
  • Cicero. De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum: "On Ends", H. Rackham, trans. Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914). Latin text with old-fashioned and not always philosophically precise English translation.
  • Epicurus. "Letter to Menoeceus, Principal Doctrines, and Vatican Sayings," 28–40 in B. Inwood and L. Gerson, Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings, Second Edition Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1998. ISBN 0-87220-378-6
  • Irwin, T. H. (1995) Plato’s Ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Long, A. A., and D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol 1 and 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987)
  • Norton, David L. (1976) Personal Destinies, Princeton University Press.
  • Plato. Plato's Complete Works, John M. Cooper, ed. Translated by D. S. Hutchinson. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997. ISBN 0-87220-349-2
  • Urmson, J. O. (1988) Aristotle’s Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Vlastos, G. (1991) Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-9787-6
  • McMahon, Darrin M., Happiness: A History, Atlantic Monthly Press, November 28, 2005. ISBN 0-87113-886-7
  • McMahon, Darrin M., The History of Happiness: 400 B.C. – A.D. 1780, Daedalus journal, Spring 2004.

External links

  • Ancient Ethical Theory, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Aristotle's Ethics, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Aristotle: Ethics, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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