Positive psychologists (the cats who study well-being) often talk about the difference between hedonic well-being and eudaimonic well-being. In simple terms, hedonic well-being is “pleasure,” whereas eudaimonic well-being is “meaning.”
It’s fairly simple to find hedonic happiness. Assuming you have your basic needs met, pleasure comes from activities you would label as “fun”—going to the beach with friends, date night, or eating a cheeseburger.
Eudaimonic meaning is more elusive. Its ingredients are things like feelings of achievement, being a part of supportive relationships, or having a purpose. Not exactly the type of stuff you’d find on a dollar menu. If you can manage to put all that together, you’ll hit the state that psychologists call “flourishing.”
For me, the main actionable difference between the two types of well-being is how you respond to negative emotions. Negative emotions, like sadness, anger, or guilt, are inevitable. They are the result of negative events, which are also inevitable.
A person with a hedonistic worldview tries to reduce negative emotions, by avoiding them in the first place, suppressing them, or getting “over” them as quickly as possible.
A person with a eudaimonic worldview accepts negative emotions as a necessary part of life. She doesn’t fight them, and she may even welcome them for the learning opportunities they provide.
I’d like to say I’ve fully adopted the eudaimonic worldview, but that would be a load of crap. I fight negative feelings all the time. I hate the discomfort of being angry or sad. And I write a blog that’s chock full of ideas to increase hedonistic happiness.
Knowing this about myself, I’ve come up with a two-part plan to become more eudaimonic.
PART 1: TURN NEGATIVE EMOTIONS INTO MEANINGFUL ONES:
Reflect on the cause of the negative emotion. Sadness is generally the result of feelings of loss. Anger comes from feeling wronged. Guilt is believing I’ve compromised my own standards. All three can inspire action and change—grieving, forgiveness, and apology—but only if I examine the root cause.
Remind myself that this too shall pass. I’ll put the emotion in the context of a longer timeframe. I’ll say to myself, “There will be a time when I’m feeling something other than this.”
Get some perspective. The negative emotion might be making me feel off-balance, but, chances are, other things are going well in my life, and, without a doubt, good things are happening around me. Negative experiences are a reminder to appreciate the good stuff.
PART 2: TURN POSITIVE EMOTIONS INTO MEANINGFUL ONES:
Savor them. Ah, my favorite word. To savor is to feel things in slow-motion. The currency is my attention, and the payout is experiencing all of my senses in hyperdrive.
Recognize their fleetingness. I call this “pre-nostalgia”—knowing that I will fondly reminisce about this moment one day in the future. I like to give a little hat tip to Future Me in that moment. “Hey, I see you there. And, you’re right, this was pretty great.”
Take a mental picture of the feeling, rather than an actual picture of the scene. I’ll put the feeling in words, and say them to a journal or to another person. It will increase the recall value years later.
So, that’s the plan. In short, I will strive to feel my feelings all the way through.
When did you last embrace a negative emotion for all of the depth and meaning it brought to your life? When did you last feel not just hedonistically happy, but truly eudaimonically joyful?