The search for happiness may have ended thousands of years ago.
A recent conference at the University of Miami, Eudaimonia and Virtue: Rethinking the Good Life 2011, examined eudaimonia, an Aristotelian concept of happiness that has gained momentum in recent years.
The conference was sponsored by the by the University of Miami Ethics Programs and the Arsht Ethics Initiatives.
Central to ancient Greek ethics, the term eudaimonia is commonly translated as happiness, but the definition extends beyond this to encompass a broader idea.
“You can’t just be happy,” said Blain Fowers, a co-organizer of the conference and a professor of counseling psychology. “You could be a happy couch potato or a happy bunny killer. This is about fulfilling what it means to be human.”
As Fowers explained, eudaimonia is about living life one’s life to the fullest and “flourishing.”
“The important thing is to understand what is really worthwhile,” Fowers said. “We need to be in touch with this and the more we are, the better off we are.”
These “worthwhile characteristics” are often explained in terms of virtues.
“One of the key things is that [eudaimonia] was strongly related to virtue, like bravery and temperance,” Fowers said. “Virtues are character strengths that allow us to actively pursue a good life.”
The concept also spawned a new approach to ethical thinking.
“It’s an approach to ethics that focuses on what’s good and then what the right thing to do is,” Fowers said. “When we really understand what’s good for us, then we are drawn to it.”
While eudaimonia may by an Ancient Greek concept, it is still applicable today.
“Whatever you really want, you should go after it,” senior Sridevi Maharaj said. “But that shouldn’t necessarily mean that you have to go out of your way to try different things.”
Others, however, feel that eudaimonia puts too much pressure on a person to live in the moment.
“For me, I like thinking of the future and not how this could be my last moment, cause a meteor could crush me to death,” freshman Meghan Shephard said. “I really like thinking about how I can improve myself. That makes me happy. Being so psychologically minded can be a burden.”
Some think that the concept of happiness itself simply cannot be completely defined.
“The pure essential bliss of it can be defined,” freshman Joseph Silveira said. “But can all the complexities of it be truly defined? I think there are parts of happiness we have not even realized.”
As an ethics concept, most feel that eudaimonia works well in theory but may not translate well to real life.
“It’s right in ethics,” Silveira said. “But the question is, does it ever help people achieve the best? People cannot approach their best because we are imperfect.”
Alysha Khan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.