How is Your Eudaimonia?

By March 9, 2020Leadership

I’ve been accused of reading too many books written by dead people. Obviously, they wrote their books while alive – but that might have been centuries ago.

As you read good books from across the ages, you begin to realize that human nature has remained relatively unchanged. Our basic needs, desires, fears, hopes, and ambitions are just that – basic. They are hard-wired into what it means to be human.

How we express and fulfill those needs, desires, fears, hopes, and ambitions have changed … and they haven’t changed. We still need social interaction and want to feel loved. We have an internal desire to grow and develop.

If Martin Luther had lived in the 21st Century, he might have nailed his 95 theses to a virtual wall on Facebook. But he would have nailed them somewhere.

Which brings me to Aristotle, a fellow whose writings are even older than Luther’s.

In his discussions about ethics and morality, Aristotle wrote about happiness – but not in the way we often think of happiness. In the Greek language, it was called “eudaimonia“, which meant pursuing the highest human good by living a life of virtue.

Professor Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries defines it this way: “A deeply meaningful life is achieved by engaging with others – family, friends and fellow citizens – in mutually beneficial activities.”

We are probably more familiar (at least experientially) with the other Greek word for happiness and pleasure: hedonism. It’s also basic to human nature. It’s the pursuit of pleasure through things such as food, sexual expression, games, competition, and avoiding suffering.

When pursued in the proper way, these desires are healthy and part of being human. When left unchecked, they can bring damage to our relationships, environment, and personal wellbeing.

Unfortunately, most modern people better identify with the hedonistic pursuit of happiness than they do eudaimonia.

Which is why Professor Kets de Vries quote is so compelling: “A deeply meaningful life is achieved by engaging with others – family, friends and fellow citizens – in mutually beneficial activities.”

If Aristotle was right, that a truly happy life is one that pursue the highest good by living a life of virtue, then it’s easy to understand why many people do not feel like they are living a meaningful life.

It requires intentional interaction that goes beyond 240 characters, memes, and animated GIFs. Much of what we call “interaction” happens on a screen and doesn’t involve eye contact or heart contact.

It also means you can’t pursue a meaningful life without some sense of what gives it meaning. Finding meaning requires introspection, education, and grappling with heavy, weighty issues.

And it can’t be for simply selfish reasons. When we pursue pleasure simply for selfish gain, we run the risk of harming others in the process. Instead of seeking what is mutually beneficial, it’s all about my pleasure. There are people rightfully locked up in prison who lived that way.

So, how is your eudaimonia? Here are three questions to help you get started:

  1. What does a “meaningful life” mean to you?
  2. Who are you engaging with?
  3. Is it mutually beneficial?

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  • 25+ years of senior leadership experience
  • masters in management and leadership
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