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How would you define a ”purposeful life”?

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

According to Victor J. Strecher, professor and director for innovation and social entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, in his book “Life on Purpose”, there are two distinct sources of happiness: Hedonistic and Eudaimonic.

Hedonistic happiness is the happiness derived from the pleasure we derive from the “good things in life” – beauty, good food, drink etc. This source of happiness, rewarding ourselves with a burst of dopamine, is short-lived. In the words of Aristotle “The many, the most vulgar, would seem to conceive the good and happiness as pleasure. . . . Here they appear completely slavish since the life they decide on is a life for grazing animals.”

Eudaimonic happiness, on the other hand, is the happiness one finds when they have developed a deep understanding of themselves and are living in harmony with that understanding. This word, “eudaimonia” was coined by Aristotle and includes the word “daimon” which means “true” or “most divine” – so, in this context, eudaimonia refers to one’s true self.

Victor Strecher continues by referring to a study of the impact of hedonistic vs eudaimonic happiness has on individuals just beginning their careers: “In a study of graduating college students, the researchers found first—perhaps unsurprisingly—that they were more likely to attain what they aspired to. Those placing importance on money, fame, and image (hedonic) were more likely to attain them, while those who aspired to greater personal growth, relationships, and community (eudaimonic) were more likely to attain these outcomes. Those who attained hedonic aspirations, however, reported greater anxiety and physical symptoms of poor health, whereas those attaining eudaimonic aspirations reported greater life satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive feelings.” The key message here is that while the people surveyed in the study achieved their goals to an equal degree, irrespective of whether they were driven by hedonistic or eudamonic motives; the people who were motivated by eudemonic goals reported greater overall quality of life in terms of satisfaction, self-esteem and positive feelings than those who achieved hedonistic goals.

So, if eudaimonic happiness is the foundation of a purposeful life, it follows that in order to discover and then live a purposeful life, you must first develop a deep understating of yourself, your strengths, values, aspirations and goals, your legacy.

Your strengths and your personal values are critical aspects of your roots as these two attributes together help define your state of “flow”, as identified by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, which in turn support your discovery and living your Life Purpose.

Wikipedia describes “flow” as follows: “The flow state has been described by Csikszentmihályi as the "optimal experience" in that one gets to a level of high gratification from the experience. Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and "depends on the ability" of the individual. One's capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals leads not only to the optimal experience but also to a sense of life satisfaction overall.

Your personal values also help shape your “why” as described by Simon Sinek, which can also be seen as your life purpose. In his book “Start with Why” he argues that the elements of “the golden circle” relate closely with the relationship between the neocortex and limbic brain – or in other words, the thinking brain versus the feeling brain. “The limbic brain is responsible for all of our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision-making, but it has no capacity for language.” He goes on the claim that “Gaining clarity of WHY, ironically, is not the hard part. It is the discipline to trust one's gut, to stay true to one's purpose, cause, or beliefs. Remaining completely in balance and authentic is the most difficult part.”

If you’re interested in learning more, why not join us in next week’s free Growthlab Workshop “Find your life Purpose


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