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Exploring Happiness, Well-being and Eudaimonia

For psychologists interested in questions of human wellbeing, a recent symposium held by the HSE International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Personality and Motivation provided an excellent opportunity to discuss the aspects and forms of happiness. For two days on June 1-2, half a dozen scholars took part in the symposium, entitled ‘Happiness beyond well-being’, which consisted of several roundtables on the theoretical and methodological aspects of the problem.

Veronika Huta, Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa, has long known Dmitry Leontiev and Evgeny Osin, both from the School of Psychology at HSE, through their mutual attendance of the INPM Meaning Conference and the World Congress on Positive Psychology. She was eager to join her colleagues for an extended discussion.



Veronika Huta

‘The conference surpassed my expectations’, Professor Huta said. ‘I had hoped that we could come to at least a small degree of consensus on the nature of eudaimonia, and I feel that we reached a substantial degree of consensus. I believe this meeting and the publications emerging from it have the potential to significantly move the field forward. It was also a privilege to collaborate with such brilliant minds – it was truly a eudaimonic experience’.

What is Eudaimonia?

What constitutes eudaimonia has been a subject of debate among scholars. While it has often been considered a form of outcome well-being, Professor Huta argues that it is important to start defining it as a chosen way of living, which she notes turned out to be the primary point of consensus at the symposium.

 



Joar Vittersø

Joar Vittersø, Professor at the Arctic University of Norway and editor of a book entitled 'Handbook of Eudaimonic Well-being',says that eudaimonic well-being is about how we as human beings can do the right thing (morally) and also being well in doing things well.

‘It is a challenging task, and the only way to make it work, eudaimonists like myself believe, is by keep developing ourselves as human beings, and keep developing institutions that can move us in the direction of a civilized world’, he says.

Professor Vittersø also shared some thoughts about how scholars can advance the field. ‘Researchers with an interest in eudaimonic wellbeing must ground their work more firmly in science’, he says. ‘In order to call a model or theory scientific, it must be thoroughly confronted with the facts and putative facts that exist within the relevant domain. If the main players in a domain continue to just cherry-pick whatever part of the knowledge base that fits their own thinking, and ignore the rest, then we will never make any progress’.

In addition to reaching a general consensus that eudaimonia is a chosen way of living, symposium participants sought to distinguish how eudaimonia differs from hedonic pursuits (e.g., seeking pleasure, comfort).

‘Both hedonic pursuits and eudaimonic pursuits (seeking authenticity, meaning, excellence, growth) are needed for a full life, with hedonic pursuits meeting more basic needs and eudaimonic pursuits allowing a person to fulfil their potential and make a contribution’, Professor Huta said.

To Pursue Well-being

Despite the engaging debate on what constitutes eudaimonia, both scholars were keen to offer practical advice on what is required to achieve well-being.

‘We must be given opportunities to develop our capacities to act as good human beings’,Professor Vittersø says. ‘It takes both solid institutions, such as good education and democratic mechanisms that allow for the dispersal of political power, and quite some effort on the personal level…People should, every day, practice the art of being socially generous, morally curious, and intellectually open-minded. And spend time contemplating the important values in their lives’.

Professor Huta agrees, saying ‘there is so much beauty in life, so much to be discovered and experienced and created. You only live once – be alive!’

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service