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A definition of happiness created two thousand years ago

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

A picture of ancient Greece

We are all in search of 'happiness' and better wellbeing. In fact it is this awareness and search for happiness that raises us above other creatures. In recent years, people have sought to define 'true happiness'. In popular culture it's finding a state of being that is almost idyllic ('finding true love', 'finding one's true vocation', 'to do something I love'). Films give the impression that a magic moment in time will lead to being 'happier ever after' that event. We all know deep down that this is elusive and untrue. However, what does it mean to be truly happy?

Types of Happiness

There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to thinking about happiness. One is termed "Hedonic" happiness and the other "Eudaimonic" happiness and both derive from conversations that happened on the hills and temples of ancient Greece, Rome and India.

Hedonic happiness and wellbeing is concerned with seeking out pleasurable experiences and minimising painful ones. It emphasises the value for us in feeling good and avoiding feeling bad. Back in 360 B.C. in a discussion between Glaucon and Socrates in Plato's Republic they argue about what people would do if they possessed an all powerful ring that gives immense powers. Glaucon says that everyone would succumb to the desire to pursue their own needs for pleasure at the expense of everyone else. Socrates argues that good people would overcome their desires because of their inherent sense of justice and fair play.

Socrates was instrumental in the development of the concept of Eudaimonic wellbeing, which is the development of a higher purpose through gaining knowledge and skills and in doing good for others. We can do things that are virtuous and good for others without experiencing pleasure, such as doing hard work as a volunteer or to do something good for the planet. We can feel good however that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves.

Living Happily

Our Life Age test is focused on the things we do in our lives that are good for us both in terms of our health and happiness. There are lots of things that give us pleasure which may not be good for us, such as excessive drinking, smoking or overeating. However, if we can find the correct balance then we can maximise our happiness.

The test is based on the best evidence available and our happiness questions have been road tested in clinical studies. They cover four areas of behaviour associated with better happiness but also better future outcomes. They include behaviours that promote social connections, valuing yourself, social roles and responsibilities, and meaning and personal growth. Hedonic versions of happiness find their way into our test, but it's balanced from those provided by Eudaimonic perspectives.

How much do you do to stay happy?

So if you haven't already, go to our free Life Age Assessment to find out how you are doing and what you can do to maximise your happiness & health to feel at your very best.

Finally, PLEASE SHARE this article with any friends and family who you think would find this useful. We are on a mission to help as many people as we can feel happier, more fulfilled and years younger - so would really appreciate your help to get our message out there.

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