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The Three Pillars of Happiness and Motivation: Hedonia, Eudaimonia, and Engagement
The Three Pillars of Happiness and Motivation: Hedonia, Eudaimonia, and Engagement

People are endlessly seeking happiness and motivation in their lives, trying all sorts of tricks to achieve them. While there’s no single secret to happiness and motivation, there are some academic insights you can implement into your own life to bring about a greater abundance of the two. 

This article dives into the concepts of hedonia, eudaimonia, engagement, and their impacts on your happiness and motivation. Psychological and social research has led to the development of these concepts that have their roots in ancient philosophy but still bear fruit in the present day. 

The Meaning of Hedonia 

To understand the relationship between hedonia, eudaimonia, and engagement, you must first understand them individually. 

The word “hedonia” comes from the Greek work “hedone” which translates to “pleasure.” 

You may recognize the sound of the word from “hedonism” which is more commonly used nowadays. Hedonism may have negative connotations depending on where you come from, as religious organizations and certain philosophers have criticized it harshly. 

It was viewed as a purely selfish form of physical indulgence with strong ties to morally deviant behavior. This, however, is an extreme view that does not apply to hedonia. 

Hedonia, as modern psychologists understand it, is an umbrella term for a state of pleasure, comfort, or enjoyment. A state in which you are free of distress. Hedonic pursuits, therefore, are activities or indulgences that bring you closer to this state of being. 

You can likely think of something you do in life simply for the enjoyment of it. This could be doing yoga, eating your favorite food, spending time with friends or loved ones, drinking a cup of coffee, or walking in nature. Anything you do to destress and enjoy yourself is potentially considered hedonia. 

Understanding Eudaimonia

Hedonia and eudaimonia are similar in that they both have positive outcomes. However, in contrast to hedonia, eudaimonia relates to long-term achievement rather than short-term pleasure. 

The ancient philosopher Aristotle first conceptualized eudaimonia, a word that literally translates to “happiness.” In his terms, it relates to activities that help bring about self-actualization, living true to your nature, and fulfilling your passions in life. 

To look deeper into the meaning of the word, you can dissect it. “Eu” translates to “good” while “daimon” translates to “spirit.” 

Thus, eudaimonia refers not simply to pleasure, but to fulfillment, enlightenment, living according to your perceived purpose and passion. It’s a complex concept to pin down with words, but that doesn’t stop contemporary philosophers and psychologists from trying. 

In simple terms, you may think of eudaimonia as something that provides lasting and meaningful happiness as opposed to short-term, fleeting joy. There is often work required to achieve eudaimonia. For example, your daily yoga practice. While you may enjoy your yoga, it requires commitment and effort. The benefits of yoga are strength, vitality, and peace, which last a lifetime if you maintain your practice. 

Another example is education. It requires work and effort, but through the pursuit of knowledge, you become more fulfilled and capable in life. 

Eudaimonia often requires discipline while hedonia is much easier to sink into. Sometimes you don’t even have to think about it. 

The Engagement Element

Engagement may be thought of as the level of attention you put into anything you do. The theory is that the more you engage with or attend to any activity, the more you get out of it. Signing up to do something is easy. It can be a split-second decision. But being present with the activity every time you do it is engagement. 

To use yoga as an example again, you may come to your mat in the morning feeling grumpy and distracted. You have a thousand things on your mind, and you resent the 30 minutes you’re taking out of your day to focus on hip openers or sun salutations. 

You may feel tempted to breeze through your poses without paying attention to the instructor, doing the bare minimum to look like you’re participating. It’s unlikely that you will reap much benefit from your practice in this state of mind and body.

If you’re committed to engagement, you may take a few deep breaths, put yourself in your heart space, and practice your poses with as much dedication and mindfulness as you can. This may not completely alleviate your stress, but your mind and body will benefit far more from choosing to be engaged. 

Similarly, a student who does the bare minimum in class and in their assignments will be lucky to pass and will struggle professionally more than the student who shows up on time and works hard every day, regardless of their feelings. 

An Energetic Intersection 

Psychologists believe that a careful balance between hedonia, eudaimonia, and engagement is the closest thing we have to an instruction manual for happiness and motivation. 

Eudaimonia spurs you to do things like study, exercise, meditate, eat well, help the needy, and advance your career. These things are great for the human spirit, but they are also taxing. They require tremendous amounts of commitment and discipline to maintain, which in turn causes us to become stressed. 

Hedonia comprises all the big and little indulgences we allow ourselves to provide a counterweight to all the strain we take in pursuit of larger goals. Eating that chocolate, spending a night out with friends, going on holiday, taking that afternoon nap, these are all things that when practiced in moderation provide us with joy and comfort that alleviates stress. 

Engagement overlaps with both of these concepts. Whether you’re working hard to achieve a personal or fitness goal or simply taking some time to enjoy the little things, you should allow yourself to be present and engage fully. If your mind is in a thousand different places, you will not reap the full benefits of hedonia or eudaimonia. 

With that in mind, strive to be present while doing yoga, but also strive to be present while having fun with your friends. Both are necessary for us to stay happy and motivated, and both will bring you closer to your truest expression of self.

By Sophia Bennet

Want more motivation at work? Do the yoga breaks at your desk program for increased focus and productivity!


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