Different conceptions, often complex, still clearly indicate two different, but still somewhat related points of view: hedonism (from the Greek word hedonismus = pleasure) and eudaimonism (from the Greek word eudaimonism = prosperity; or eu = good, daimon = spirit), two views proposed as early as by Aristotle. It is important to distinguish these two types of well-being, because they affect behavior and psychological functioning completely differently. While the hedonistic view of well-being refers to pleasure, contentment, and happiness, the eudaimonist view explains well-being in terms of personal strength and movements toward the higher good, activities that are consistent with one’s real nature and deep values, realization of one’s true potential, and experience of purpose or meaning in life, long-term happiness.
One of the main criteria for distinguishing the hedonistic from the eudaimonic view of well-being is the degree to which they refer to the subjective versus objective. While the hedonistic view of well-being refers to personal experience of satisfaction and the current positive emotional state, the eudaimonist view of well-being refers to meeting objectively valid needs and responsible behaviors, which has a beneficial effect on overall human development.
There is also a difference in the level of awareness of the differences between pleasant and useless, and unpleasant and useful. Eudaimonistic theories imply that many desired outcomes that lead solely to pleasure may not necessarily be good for the person. For example, going shopping for clothes and engaging in physical activities can contain a hedonistic aspect, causing pleasure and enjoyment. However, engaging in physical activities will contribute to a sense of personal growth and development, a sense of competence, rather than buying clothes. So, when we talk about eudaimonia, we are talking about activities that are good for a person in the long run and that are related to long-term well-being, we are talking about consciously choosing not to follow the “line of least resistance” while on the other hand, activities that bring simple pleasures are usually short-lived and can even be unsuitable for well-being.
So what exactly is hedonism? Isn’t hedonism a positive characteristic?
The answer to this, as well as to many other psychological questions, is anything but simple. And the answer in relation to this, as well as in relation to many other characteristics, comes down to the fact that the key is in moderation and balance. At one extreme are people who suffer from hedonism avoiding any kind of discomfort that prevents them from achieving everything they would like in the long run, because they concentrate only on immediate pleasure and what is easier. And at the other extreme are those who suffer from anhedonia, concentrating to avoiding pleasure as something that, according to their wrong thinking, leads to loss of control, distraction from goals and laziness. Can we make a conclusionthat what is the most likely desirable is the golden mean between the two extremes: choosing both pleasant and unpleasant activities? Do responsible and useful pleasantness and useful discomfort when consumed in moderation lead to the healthiest outcomes?
An important difference between these two types of happiness is in their course. While the outcome of hedonistic happiness that a person strives for is usually emptiness and striving for stronger, more intense, new pleasures (which can lead dissatisfaction and frustration over time), eudaimonistic happiness is characterized by gratitude and work on personal goals, with occasional pleasure as a reward for overcoming obstacles. A hedonist, if not moderate, becomes a victim of himself and his own desires.
Is it then completely unhealthy to engage in activities that are hedonistic?
No. Research shows that positive emotionality is very important for our health and our longevity. The point here is that positive emotionality in itself leads nowhere. But it is certainly healthy to nurture it while working on long-term, eudaimonistic happiness. So, constant hedonism is not functional, but avoiding enjoyment is not functional either, because it can lead to anhedonia, emptiness, dissatisfaction, workaholism.
It is necessary to combine pleasantness and discomfort in a healthy long-term and responsible way.