PCA Logo

Three types of happiness


We all seem to be aiming for the same thing “happiness”, but what actually is happiness?

The pursuit of happiness is a ubiquitous human quest.

We all desire the same emotional state of, blissful contentment, but, what takes us to this state, is different for everyone.

Happiness is a complicated topic, with no universal definition it’s impossible to define but, just having an understanding of what happiness looks like for others, helps us to better shape our own unique version of this concept.

There are three distinct ways to view and asses happiness;

Hedonistic Happiness

The most common understanding (and approach) to happiness is “feeling good.” This is Hedonistic happiness which constitutes the seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain.

Whilst Hedonism is a common approach to happiness, it should be noted that most of society take a moderated approach otherwise they may indeed look like Keith Richards now, in their 30’s.

The disadvantages of Hedonism are that it’s hits are short-lived, leaving people in a never ending chase, much like a drug addict.

Two key philopsohers had contrasting thoughts on how Hedonism was best used. Epicurus argued that the key to hedonistic happiness was moderation. Whilst we might be tempted to live a lavish life for a year and then return to our less lavish state, Epicurus argues that this will make us less happy than if we just lived moderately all along – chasing simple pleasures.

John Stuart Mill instead argues in his work Utilitarianism, that some pleasures are higher than others and we must first enhance our own intellectual abilities and then, actively select pleasures most likely to advanced our own happiness.

Eudaimonic Happiness

Eudaimonia means “flourishing”and is the idea of having a purposeful life rather than a lavish or explicitly pleasant one. The idea goes back to Socrates and the Stoics and was also the foundation of Aristotle’s virtue ethics.

More recently,the idea was given a psychological reboot with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A person who has reached the top of the pyramid and is self-actualised, and self-transcendent, can be said to be living a Eudemonic life

The difficulty with Eudaimonia, as opposed to other forms of happiness, is that it seems to require a lifetime to get right – what constitutes a flourishing person, and how you can reach your potential is a life-long journey. Learning solely, what your potentials are is an art, in itself.

Obviously, by its very nature, the hierarchy of needs can only be journeyed by those reasonably financially able. Hence why, philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written on how the Scandinavian countries, with their generous social programs that assure people’s basic needs are fulfilled, are best able to allow their citizens to flourish.

Evaluative happiness

Evaluative happiness is also very open to individual choice. This idea is a lot more simple. It involves social scientists asking people on questionnaires to rate their happiness on a gradient from 1-10.This happiness hinges on “life satisfaction” and the reaching of individual goals.

Given that it can be measured very simply and being perception based, doesn’t make assumptions about what will and won’t make a person happy (each to their own after-all) it’s the gold standard of well-being metrics.

There you have it – there is certainly more than one way to be happy. How do you measure your happiness? Which school of thought relates to you?