As some of you know, for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness, also known as subjective well-being. It turns out, there are two types of happiness: Hedonic and eudaimonic.
Hedonic happiness is what we tend to think of as “happiness” in a capitalist society — a fancy new car, a big house, a high-paying job. It is well-documented that this kind of happiness is not long lasting. Do you know someone who makes a lot of money but is a miserable, unkind person? Or have you ever gotten a new car that made you deliriously happy for a few months, and then becomes just another object in your life? If so, you know what I am talking about.
Eudaimonic happiness, on the other hand, is enduring. It is best thought of as “well-being,” enjoying something for its own sake, like achieving a personal goal, or improving at a sought after skill. For example, maybe you enjoy playing the guitar and though you may never earn a living playing for other people, you carve out a half hour several times a week to play, just for the enjoyment of it. Eudaimonic happiness makes life rich and fulfilling, and it is possible to have a sense of well-being without feeling “happy.”
When I began to consider how to increase the amount of eudaimonic happiness in my life, I realized that in order to build it, I had to be very clear on what gives me a sense of well-being and satisfaction. I thought about the legacy I want to leave. I considered the values that are most important to me. I made lists of things that feel good to me, and that I want to learn more about. I found pictures that represented each and pasted them into a document that I call my living legacy board.
The living legacy board makes my heart beat a little faster, makes my palms feel sweaty, because it is a vision that will force me to tackle some big challenges. To make all this happen, I realized, I would have to get pretty selfish. I don’t mean selfish with a small s, the kind of behavior where you put yourself above others and try to grab the biggest slice of the pie for yourself. I am talking about Selfish with a capital S, consciously setting aside time to develop personal skills, talents, abilities and interests to their highest level. I really believe the best we can do for other people is be the absolute best ourselves. And this takes consistent, persistent effort.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making me more Selfish than I have ever been, and I am happy to admit it. The chaos and uncertainty has underlined the importance of finding small moments of pleasure every day, to take a break from fear and anxiety. For me, giving myself the space to explore dramatically increases my sense of well-being, or eudaimonic happiness. I have a committed morning ritual: meditate half an hour, read, reflect and write, do an HIIT workout or take a walk, have coffee with my husband. What this means? To be Selfish is a huge benefit to other people.
Another benefit of eudaimonic happiness? It encompasses hedonic happiness. So, if you enjoy having a nice car and fancy clothes, absolutely continue enjoying them! Just make sure you are taking time to develop your sense of overall well-being.