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Eudaimonia: Happiness and the Good Life

Connected handsA Meaningful Life 

For many of us, especially those of us approaching the mid to late years in our life we begin asking the question, “Is that all there is”?  We get increasingly disappointed with our life, job, marriage, religion, car, friends – you get the idea.  We begin to question our choices and we ask ourselves have we lived a “good life”.  Indeed, what is a good life?  Scholars and philosophers have attempted to define the good life or what constitutes the good life from as far back as when we began to write.  The Greek philosophers are the group most credited with kicking off the “what constitutes a good life” debate.

Aristotle lived in Greece from 384BC – 322BC.  Together with Socrates and Plato they are considered to be the Greek Trinity from which Western philosophy and the scientific method originates.  Aristotle was also responsible for teaching and enlightening Alexander the Great.

The term Eudaimonia (pronounced you-day-monya) was coined by Aristotle in his work The Nicomachean Ethics and was originally translated and interpreted by scholars to mean “happiness”.  Without getting too bogged down in Greek philosophy, the word Eudaimonia has a charm and attraction all its own.  The Greek roots of the word – eu (“well”)and daimon (“spirit”) – means “well spirit”.  What does that mean? 

A.C. Grayling in his book
 states, “Aristotle had a particular concept of happiness in mind, to which he gave the name eudaimonia.  By this he meant an active kind of well-being and well-doing – a much richer notion than is now generally meant by ‘happiness’.  More precisely, eudaimonia means a flourishing state of the soul.  The English word ‘happiness’ (especially in contemporary usage) embodies a very pallid conception in comparison; one could make everyone happy by putting suitable medications in the public water supply, but that would scarcely convey what Aristotle had in mind”.  Nice to see that even Philosophers have a sense of humour.

I think it’s important to note, that here we are in 2014 looking back into ancient history for answers to the problems of modern life.  What does it mean to be happy?  When we pursue the capitalist dream and it still doesn’t make us happy and leaves most of us feeling somewhat hollow, what then?

For those of us who are searching for that meaning in life, or a meaningful life, I think the pursuit or journey is what Aristotle was talking about.  What are our values?  What brings meaning to our life?  In what activities is our personal energy used to best advantage?

For most people caught up in our fast paced mode of life, we don’t often allow, or indeed are given, time to reflect.  It was alright for Aristotle, he had plenty of time to sit and ponder under the olive trees.  In life and business we careen from one thing to another at a rapidly increasing pace.  If we are not encouraged to perform self-reflection or indeed even to “think things through” during our formative educational years, how on earth do we gather the tools to do so later in life? 

Many of us spend time in the self-help section of bookstores, watching reality TV shows, listening to talkback radio programs looking for these answers.  The problem with this searching is that it’s largely external when the searching we need to do is internal. 

No two ways about it, this requires some guidance about how to perform that self-searching.  It’s quite a daunting process to examine your life and define what a meaningful life means for YOU.    Your definition can share elements of other people’s lives but your definition does need to be meaningful for YOU. 

Maybe by doing a little self-examination we can see the things we have in common and the things that make us unique.  And maybe the things we have in common can be useful to help bring us together.  A.C. Grayling further states, “Living the good life is a whole-life project, and accordingly is something in which one can perfect oneself”.

This will be the first in a series of blogs about how to lead a more meaningful life.

Eudaimoniato lead a meaningful life, where one’s spirit can flourish.


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