Understanding the Good Life: Eudaimonic Living Involves Well-Doing, Not Well-Being
Expanding on the observations of other well-being researchers in recent years, this chapter criticizes psychology’s current use of the term “eudaimonia,” and in particular, the terms “eudaimonic well-being” and “eudaimonic happiness.” I suggest that psychologists have made a serious category mistake in linking the concepts of “eudaimonia” and “well-being,” a mistake that Aristotle himself took great pains to avoid. Eudaimonia, as originally conceived, was not a feeling, psychological condition, or type of well-being; rather, the concept referred to particular ways of thinking and/or behaving, ways which might subsequently affect or contribute to well-being. I will show that researchers’ failure to make this distinction has contributed to erosion in scientifc precision, and lost opportunities for understanding how positive change actually occurs. In making this critique, my hope is not to eliminate the concept of eudaimonia from psychological research. Instead I hope to point the way towards a more circumscribed (but still very broad) defnition of the term, so that it can be more usefully applied within temporal process models of positive functioning and positive personality development. In the latter part of the article I discuss one such process model, the “Eudaimonic Activity Model” (EAM; Sheldon, 2013, 2016). The EAM carefully distinguishes the concept of eudaimonia from the concept of well-being, by treating well-being as an outcome criterion variable that reliably results from truly eudaimonic activities, due to the experiential satisfactions that those activities bring. I will show that the EAM supplies a potentially valuable framework for testing and comparing different eudaimonic theories and constructs.