Putting eudaimonia in its place: On the predictor, not the outcome, side of the equation
A critique of the concept of eudaimonia
This handbook presents the most comprehensive account of eudaimonic well-being to date. It brings together theoretical insights and empirical updates presented by leading scholars and young researchers. The handbook examines philosophical and historical approaches to the study of happy lives and good societies, and it critically looks at conceptual controversies related to eudaimonia and well-being. It identifies the elements of happiness in a variety of areas such as emotions, health, wisdom, self-determination, internal motivation, personal growth, genetics, work, leisure, heroism, and many more. It then places eudaimonic well-being in the larger context of society, addressing social elements. The most remarkable outcome of the book is arguably its large-scale relevance, reminding us that the more we know about the good way of living, the more we are in a position to build a society that can be supportive and offer opportunities for such a way of living for all of its citizens.
Interest in the experience of well-being, as both a research topic and as a policy goal, has significantly increased in recent decades. Although subjective well-being (SWB)—composed of positive affect, low negative affect, and life satisfaction—is the most commonly used measure of well-being, many experts have argued that another important dimension of wellbeing, often referred to as eudaimonic well-being (EWB), should be measured alongside SWB. EWB, however, has been operationalized in at least 45 different ways, using measures of at least 63 different constructs. These diverse measurement strategies often have little overlap, leading to discrepant results and making the findings of different studies difficult to compare. Building on the Eudaimonic Activity Model, we propose a tripartite conception of well-being, distinguishing between eudaimonic motives/activities, psychological need satisfaction, and SWB, arguing that the needs category provides a parsimonious set of elements at the core of the well-being construct. Based on the self-determination theory claim that all human beings share evolved psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, we show that satisfaction of all three needs directly affect SWB and other health and wellness outcomes, can efficiently explain the effects of various behaviors and conditions upon well-being outcomes, and are universally impactful across cultures. We conclude that routinely measuring psychological needs alongside SWB within national and international surveys would give policymakers a parsimonious way to assess eudaimonic dimensions of wellness and provide powerful mediator variables for explaining how various cultural, economic, and social factors concretely affect citizens’ well-being and health.
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.
We present a series of studies aimed at the development and the validation of a new Russian-language instrument measuring existential fulfilment based on the hierarchical structure of the 4 existential fundamental motivations developed by A. Längle. Based on phenomenological descriptions and focus groups, we created a 94-item set. The structural validation study used 2 online samples (N = 818 and N = 215). Using hierarchical cluster analysis, expert-rating procedure, and confirmatory factor analysis with cross-validation we arrived at a hierarchically structured set of 36 items grouped into 4 scales (forming a general index of existential fulfilment) and 12 subscales corresponding to theoretical prerequisites of fundamental motivations. The scales demonstrated acceptable reliability (α in the .79-.88 range, .93 for the general score). In 3 samples (N = 658, N = 215, N = 105) we sought evidence of convergent and discriminant validity of TEM against measures of well-being (emotional, social, and psychological well-being, subjective happiness, satisfaction with life), basic psychological need satisfaction, self-esteem, psychopathology (anxiety, depression, alienation), and the Big Five traits using correlation and regression analyses. Two other studies explored the associations of existential fulfilment with other demographic and psychological variables (gender, age, self-control, reflexive processes) in a large sample (N = 3766) and investigated TEM scores in individuals with binge eating disorder (N = 193). The findings show the convergent validity of existential fulfilment indicators against well-being measures based on different theoretical approaches, as well as discriminant and criterion validity of existential fundamental motivation scales. We also discuss the psychometric challenges associated with existential concepts and propose approaches to their solution.
We used a new methodology for assessing change motivation (Hudson and Fraley 2015, 2016) to test the hypothesis that striving to improve one’s hedonic well-being fails in its aim, whereas striving to improve one’s eudaimonic functioning succeeds. In three studies, participant goals to increase subjective well-being (SWB) were negatively correlated with concurrent SWB, whereas goals to increase relative intrinsic versus extrinsic value orientation (RIEVO) were positively correlated with concurrent RIEVO. In Study 3’s longitudinal investigation, Time 1 RIEVO change goals predicted increased RIEVO six and 12 weeks later, whereas Time 1 SWB change goals did not affect longitudinal SWB. Together, the data support the Aristotelian idea that people should pursue eudaimonia rather than happiness, not least because the latter pursuit may not be as effective.