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Journal of Happiness Studies (2008) 9:1â??11
DOI 10.1007/s10902-006-9018-1
Ã? Springer 2006
EDWARD L. DECI and RICHARD M. RYAN
HEDONIA, EUDAIMONIA, AND WELL-BEING: AN
INTRODUCTION
(Received 10 May 2006; Accepted 18 May 2006)
ABSTRACT. Research on well-being can be thought of as falling into two
traditions. In oneâ??the hedonistic traditionâ??the focus is on happiness, generally defined as the presence of positive aï¬?ect and the absence of negative
aï¬?ect. In the otherâ??the eudaimonic traditionâ??the focus is on living life in a
full and deeply satisfying way. Recognizing that much recent research on wellbeing has been more closely aligned with the hedonistic tradition, this special
issue presents discussions and research reviews from the eudaimonic tradition,
making clear how the concept of eudaimonia adds an important perspective to
our understanding of well-being.
KEY WORDS: eudaimonia, fully functioning, hedonism, subjective wellbeing.
1. Hedonia
2. Eudaimonia
HEDONIA AND SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING
Well-being, which refers to optimal psychological experience
and functioning, has been vigorously studied in psychology over
the past quarter century. To a significant degree, this is due to the
work of psychologists such as Diener (1984) who have focused on
an exploration of subjective well-being (SWB). From that perspective, well-being is considered subjective because the idea is for people to evaluate for themselves, in a general way, the degree to which
they experience a sense of wellness. As an operational definition,
SWB is most often interpreted to mean experiencing a high level of
positive a�ect, a low level of negative a�ect, and a high degree of
satisfaction with oneÃ?s life. To the extent that one strongly endorses
these three constructs, one is said to be high in SWB. The concept
of SWB, assessed in this way, has frequently been used interchangeably with â??â??happiness.â??â?? Thus, maximizing oneÃ?s well-being
has been viewed as maximizing oneÃ?s feelings of happiness.
2
EDWARD L. DECI AND RICHARD M. RYAN
In research on SWB, the primary focus has been on factors
that lead to SWBâ??including person factors, social-environmental factors, and cultural factors. Assumptions have not been
made about what should yield SWB nor about universality in
the conditions that are likely to make people happy. Readers of
the Journal of Happiness Studies are well familiar with the idea
of SWB, with its operational definition, and with studies about
the types of factors that yield it.
Since the publication of Well-Being: The Foundation of Hedonic Psychology (Kahneman et al., 1999), SWB has been associated with the hedonistic approach to well-being. A more
precise interpretation of hedonic well-being would, however, use
just positive a�ect and negative a�ect to index happiness, because life satisfaction is not strictly a hedonic concept. Rather,
it involves a cognitive evaluation of the conditions of oneÃ?s life.
Still, SWB has been widely associated with the idea of happiness and these two concepts have often been interpreted as
being hedonic, although there may be room for greater integration of SWB into a more eudaimonic perspective.
EUDAIMONIA AND FULL FUNCTIONING
In spite of the proliferation of SWB studies, SWB is not the
only way to think about well-being. A second view considers
well-being to consist of more than just happiness, suggesting
that peopleÃ?s reports of being happy (or of being positively
affective and satisfied) does not necessarily mean that they are
psychologically well. This second perspective is referred to as
eudaimonia (Waterman, 1993) and is concerned with living well
or actualizing oneÃ?s human potentials. This conceptualization
maintains that well-being is not so much an outcome or end
state as it is a process of fulfilling or realizing one�s daimon or
true natureâ??that is, of fulfilling oneÃ?s virtuous potentials and
living as one was inherently intended to live. As pointed out in
several of the papers in this special issue, the eudaimonic view
can be traced to Aristotle (translated by Irwin, 1985) and is
aligned with various 20th century intellectual traditions, including humanistic psychology.
HEDONIA, EUDAIMONIA AND WELL-BEING
3
The two approaches to well-beingâ??namely, hedonism and
eudaimonismâ??are founded on different views of human nature.
The hedonic approach uses what Tooby and Cosmides (1992)
referred to as the standard social science model, which considers
the human organism initially to be relatively empty and thus
malleable, such that it gains its meaning in accord with social
and cultural teachings. In contrast, the eudaimonic approach
ascribes content to human nature and works to uncover that
content and to understand the conditions that facilitate versus
diminish it.
Still, there is believed to be substantial overlap between the
experience of hedonia and eudaimonia, and research reviewed
by Waterman, Schwartz, and Conti (this issue) and by Bauer,
McAdams, and Pals (this issue) indicates a high level of statistical covariance. The position taken by Waterman and colleagues
is that, if a person experiences eudaimonic living he or she will
necessarily also experience hedonic enjoyment; however, not all
hedonic enjoyment is derived from eudaimonic living. Still the
two are highly correlated, and most researchers agree that there
will be considerable overlap (e.g., Ryan and Deci, 2001). In
spite of the statistical convergence between hedonia and eudaimonia, there are very important points of divergence. Because
readers of the Journal of Happiness Studies are likely to be
much less familiar with the eudaimonic approach to well-being
and its research tradition, we have drawn together the work of
several noted researchers who use the eudaimonic idea that
well-being refers to being fully functioning.
PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING AND EUDAIMONIA
The first paper in this issue is by Ryff and Singer. The
research they discuss began with RyffÃ?s (1989) model and measure of psychological well-being, which falls within the eudaimonic tradition and was originally formulated to challenge the
prevailing hedonistic view of well-being within psychology. In
the current paper, Ryff and Singer review work of theorists dating back to Aristotle that informed the development of RyffÃ?s
formulation. The reader will see that it derives not only from
4
EDWARD L. DECI AND RICHARD M. RYAN
AristotleÃ?s view of the highest human good involving virtue and
the realization of oneÃ?s potential, but also from the work of
psychodynamically and humanistically oriented psychologists
such as Jung (1933), Maslow (1968), Allport (1961), and Rogers
(1962). Ryï¬?Ã?s approach names six characteristics of psychological well-beingâ??self-acceptance, personal growth, relatedness,
autonomy, relationships, environmental mastery, and purpose
in life. Thus, her scale of psychological well-being involves
assessing these six subscales. Research by Ry�, Singer, and their
colleagues has shown that higher levels of psychological wellbeing is associated with better neuroendocrine regulation, lower
cardiovascular risk, and better immune functioning.
The second paper by Waterman, Schwartz, and Conti begins
with an additional discussion of the philosophical foundation of
eudaimonia as a conception of well-being. They then present research in which they use the Personally Expressive Activities
Questionnaire (PEAQ) to assess both eudaimonic and hedonic
aspects of well-being, particularly as they relate to the concept
of intrinsic motivation. Participants list several activities that
are personally salient to them, and then they respond to six
items that are intended to assess eudaimonia and six that are intended to assess hedonic well-being. The items related to eudaimonia are labeled Personally Expressive and include, â??â??This
activity gives me my strongest feeling that this is who I really
am.â??â?? An example of an hedonic-enjoyment item is â??â??This activity gives me my greatest pleasure.â??â??
THE CONTENT OF PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING
AND EUDAIMONIA?
There are interesting issues that come up in comparing the
first two papers. Both assess well-being within the Eudaimonic
tradition, yet they take very different approaches. Ryff and
Singer�s approach is to examine the six specific contents
mentioned above that are theorized to constitute psychological
well-being, using each as a subscale. In contrast, Waterman and
colleagues use a single scale in which they assess the extent to
which a particular activity leaves one feeling fulfilled and is
HEDONIA, EUDAIMONIA AND WELL-BEING
5
expressive of who one truly is. There are two important differences between these approaches. First, Ryff and colleagues assess psychological well-being as a global or individual difference
variable, whereas Waterman and colleagues assess eudaimonia
more narrowly in relation to particular activities. Second, the
Ryff measure specifies the content that represents eudaimonic living (e.g., environmental mastery, positive relations, selfacceptance, etc.), whereas the Waterman measure leaves the
concept content free, assessing simply whether an activity leaves
one feeling alive, fulfilled, and expressive of one�s true self. It
seems important at this point for researchers to examine empirically the relations between these two operational definitions and
the correlates of each.
HAPPINESS, WELL-BEING, AND MATERIAL POSSESSIONS
There are two other points worth noting about the paper by
Waterman and colleagues as it relates to the literature on wellbeingÃ?s two traditions. First, these authors refer to two types of
happinessâ??hedonic and eudaimonic. In other words, whereas
the concept of happiness within psychology has typically been
aligned with just the hedonic view, Waterman and colleagues
use the concept to encompass both views, making a clear distinction between the two kinds of happiness. This is primarily
an issue of semantics, of how one chooses to use specific words,
because Waterman et al. are making the general hedonic-eudaimonic distinction in much the same way that the other contributors to this special issue are doing. Nonetheless, in order to
minimize confusion, it is important to keep in mind the different ways the term happiness is used by authors in this issue and
elsewhere.
A second noteworthy point concerns the conceptual definition of hedonic well-being used by Waterman and colleagues. In
line with the work of Kraut (1979), Waterman and colleagues
define hedonic well-being as the positive feelings that accompany getting the material objects one wants or having the
action opportunities one wishes. More specifically, there is an
emphasis in this definition on material objects, which is related
6
EDWARD L. DECI AND RICHARD M. RYAN
to AristotleÃ?s view of hedonia but is not necessarily implicit in
current research on hedonia that emphasizes subjective wellbeing (Kahneman et al., 1999). The essence of this conceptual
definition of Waterman and colleagues does not appear in their
operational definition (i.e., in their measure of hedonic enjoyment), but it is an issue worth noting in terms of a broader
understanding of the complex field of well-being.
WELL-BEING THEMES IN LIFE STORIES
The paper by Bauer, McAdams, and Pals in this issue reviews work on peopleÃ?s narratives or life stories. Arguing that
people create narratives to organize their experiences and relate
to their social surrounds, the researchers have examined people�s narratives and identified themes that tend to be associated
with eudaimonia. They understand eudaimonia, or the good
life, to comprise pleasure, a sense of meaningfulness, and a rich
psychosocial integration in a personÃ?s understanding of himself
or herself. The authors report, for example, that people whose
narratives are rich in intrinsic goals for personal growth, meaningful relationships, and community contribution (Ryan et al.,
1996) tend also to display psychological well-being as an indicator of eudaimonia. Further, they indicate that when peopleÃ?s
narratives concern integrative growthâ??that is, growth involving
deeper understanding and integration of new and old perspectivesâ??the people tend to display a high level of ego-development (Loevinger, 1976) and psychological well-being, especially
on the dimensions of purpose in life and personal growth.
AUTONOMY AND EUDAIMONIA
A concept that seems to be closely related to eudaimonia is
autonomy. As defined by Ryan and Deci (2000), autonomy
refers to volition, to having the experience of choice, to endorsing one�s actions at the highest level of re�ection. Ryan and
Deci proposed that autonomy is one of the three fundamental
and universal psychological needs that are central to
self-determination theory (SDT), the other two being
HEDONIA, EUDAIMONIA AND WELL-BEING
7
relatedness and competence. In discussions of eudaimonia in
this special issue, the concept of autonomy comes up in several
ways and appears in each article. It begins with AristotleÃ?s
emphasizing choice and suggesting that virtue, which is central
to eudaimonia, involves making the right choices. In other
words, it results from choosing to act virtuouslyâ??that is, being
volitionally virtuousâ??rather than being drawn into excesses
such as accumulating material possessions.
Ryff and colleagues have used the concept of autonomy as
one of the six aspects of psychological wellness, defining autonomy as self-determination, independence, and the regulation of
behavior from within. Although the term â??â??autonomyâ??â?? as
defined in self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000)
involves self-determination and self-regulation, assuming those
terms are interpreted as meaning a sense of volitional and consent, autonomy is quite di�erent from the concept of independence. Independence means not relying on others, whereas
autonomy as used in self-determination theory means acting
with the experience of choice. Thus, it is quite possible to be
autonomous (volitional) while relying on others rather than acting independently of them. Accordingly, there is only a partial
intersection of the ideas of autonomy expressed in the articles
by Ry� and Singer and by Ryan, Huta, and Deci.
Waterman, Schwartz, and Conti do not use the term autonomy, but they do talk repeatedly about self-determination,
which they define as freely choosing, thus using a concept that is
closely related to autonomy as defined by Ryan, Huta, and Deci.
Although Bauer, McAdams, and Pals did not address the
concept of autonomy or self-determination directly, their work
drew links between eudaimonia and intrinsic aspirations. The
latter concept, which comes from self-determination theory
(SDT), is both conceptually and empirically related to the concept of autonomy or autonomous regulation. Furthermore,
Bauer and colleagues reviewed research on narrative themes
that relate to high levels of ego-development, which has also
been shown to relate to greater autonomy (Avery and Ryan,
1988).
8
EDWARD L. DECI AND RICHARD M. RYAN
AUTONOMY AS THE BASIC NEED
The article by Devine, Camfield, and Gough has the concept
of autonomy at its core, suggesting that autonomy is the basic
human need. They then argue that although it is often said to
be a western, individualistic concept, its importance is readily
observable in Bangladesh, an eastern collectivist society. In the
work of this group, autonomy is considered a very broad concept. Whereas SDT specifies three basic needsâ??autonomy,
relatedness, and competenceâ??Devine and colleagues essentially
incorporate relatedness and competence within autonomy. For
example, they suggest that autonomy can only be developed
through interdependent relationships, that autonomy entails
wanting to participate in a social life, and that when peopleÃ?s
social activities are blocked autonomy will be impaired. They
further portray autonomy in a way that encompasses competence, suggesting for example that a lack of su�cient understanding of one�s culture will interfere with acting
autonomously within it.
This view of autonomy is focused more at a sociological-economic level, whereas the SDT conception of autonomy is
focused at the psychological level, thus accounting in part for
the broader view of the concept in the work of Devine and colleagues. Still, the article by Devine and colleagues concludes
that autonomy is indeed a universal psychological need,
although its expression can vary greatly as a function of the
context within which it is being expressed.
Their cross-cultural perspective, which highlighted the need
for autonomy in Bangladesh, also makes the point that people
in that culture often feel constrained from expressing the need
for autonomy because it is not culturally endorsed as a value.
This, of course, is important because it means that understanding the deep level of peopleÃ?s universal psychological needs
requires being very careful in assessing them, for people in cultures that do not value particular needs may not endorse those
needs on a questionnaire even though the needs are essential for
their own well-being.
HEDONIA, EUDAIMONIA AND WELL-BEING
9
SDT AND EUDAIMONIA
In the final article in this special issue, Ryan and colleagues
use self-determination theory as the basis for presenting a model of eudaimonia. These authors, like others in this special issue,
emphasize that eudaimonia concerns how one lives oneÃ?s life rather than the well-being outcome, per se. Of course, living well
is expected to yield both the feelings of happiness and pleasure
and a sense of meaning and fulfillment. But the emphasis in the
Ryan et al. paper is on the processes that represent eudaimonic
living and that yield well-being.
From this perspective, living well involves those motives,
goals, and behaviors that are satisfying of the basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. To examine this further, the article considers the pursuit and attainment
of intrinsic (relative to extrinsic) life goals or aspirations, the
autonomous (relative to controlled) regulation of behavior, and
awareness or mindfulness as they relate to basic need satisfaction and eudaimonia. As well, the article addresses the conditions that promote intrinsic goal pursuits, autonomous
regulation, and mindful engagementâ??in short, the conditions
that promote eudaimonia.
CONCLUSION
Together, the set of papers contained within this special issue
makes a compelling case that the concept of eudaimonia is an
important one for understanding well-being and human �ourishing. Well-being conceptualized in terms of eudaimonia has
considerable overlap with subjective well-being as viewed from
a hedonic perspective, but there are very important differences
as is made clear by the interesting articles of this special issue.
REFERENCES
Allport, G.W.: 1961, Pattern and Growth in Personality Holt (Rinehart and
Winston, NewYork).
10
EDWARD L. DECI AND RICHARD M. RYAN
Aristotle: 1985, Nichomachean Ethics (T. Irwin, translator) (Hackett, Indianapolis, IN).
Avery, R.R. and R.M. Ryan: 1988, Ã?Object relations and ego development:
Comparison and correlates in middle childhoodÃ?, Journal of Personality 56,
pp. 547â??569.
Bauer, J.J., D.P. McAdams, and J.L. Pals: 2006, â??Narrative identity
and eudaimonic well-beingâ??, Journal of Happiness Studies (this issue),
DOI 10.1007/s10902-006-9021-6.
Diener, E.: 1984, Ã?Subjective well-beingÃ?, Psychological Bulletin 95, pp. 542â??
575.
Jung, C.G.: 1933, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (W.S. Dell and C.F.
Baynes, translators) (Harcourt, Brace and World, New York).
Kahneman D., Diener E. and Schwarz N. (eds) 1999, Well-Being: The
Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (Russell Sage Foundation, NewYork).
Kraut, R.: 1979, Ã?Two conceptions of happinessÃ?, Philosophical Review 87, pp.
167â??196.
Loevinger, J.: 1976, Ego Development (Jossey-Bass …
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