This short explainer will provide you with a straightforward understanding of what eudaimonia is and how you can use it to guide your Stoic practice.
Definition Of Stoic Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia is a Greek term that translates to a state of being that encompasses terms such as “happiness”, “flourishing”, “fulfillment”, “well-being”, and the “good life.”
The Stoics believed that possession and practice of the four cardinal virtues — Wisdom, Justice, Temperance, and Courage — was the only true path to eudaimonia.
What the Stoics Said
Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, taught that consistent efforts add up on the journey toward eudaimonia:
Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.Zeno of Citium, as quoted by Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers
Epictetus also emphasized progress over perfection in the practice of virtue:
If virtue promises good fortune, peace of mind, and happiness, certainly also the progress toward virtue is progress toward each of these things.Epictetus, Discourses 1.4.3
In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius recorded his own evidence of eudaimonia resulting from following virtuous principles:
You know from personal experience that in all your detours the good life was nowhere to be found: not in logic, or wealth, or prestige, or sensual pleasure — nowhere. So where is it to be found? In doing what your human nature requires. And how is one to do this? By adhering to principles that guide your impulses and actions. What principles? Those that are concerned with good and bad, and state that nothing is good for a human being except what makes him honest, moderate, courageous, and self-reliant, and that nothing is bad except what inculcates the opposite qualities in him.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8.1
Modern authors like Donald Robertson have sought to remove the confusion that can sometimes arise from the translation of eudaimonia:
In classical philosophy, a distinction is often made between more passive sensory “pleasure” (hedone) and the kind of “happiness” (eudaimonia) that comes from rational activity in accord with the psychological virtues. According to this view, true happiness is constant and self-generated; it comes from within, as the cliché goes. For example, an authentic sense of happiness may come from the knowledge that one has acted freely and with genuine integrity, courage, and wisdom, in accord with one’s highest psychological strengths and values. The pleasure that comes from indulging in sex, food, drink, drugs, or glorying in praise from others is passive in the sense that it depends upon external stimulation. It is, therefore, transient and not entirely under our control but depends upon fortunate circumstances. The happiness that comes from loving truth, reason, integrity, and wisdom, by contrast, is autonomous; it depends only upon itself.Donald Robertson, The Philosophy of CBT
While Kai Whiting stresses the ongoing importance of eudaimonia as an intended destination for today’s practicing Stoics:
All Stoics have the moral obligation to strive toward eudaimonia — a journey that requires them to harmoniously seek to improve their character and to do their best to ensure that virtue, which includes justice, is made manifest in their thoughts and actions.Kai Whiting, Being Better
How Can I Use Eudaimonia Right Now?
The knowledge of eudaimonia informs our practical application of Stoicism in quite a simple way.
As we know, eudaimonia is the destination that Stoics strive toward. It’s the sense of flourishing and well-being we feel when we’re getting it right.
We also know, as the Stoics made clear, that the practice of virtue in our thoughts and actions are what propels us on our journey to that destination.
This means choosing, every day:
- Courage over cowardice
- Justice over injustice
- Temperance over intemperance
- Wisdom over ignorance
It means choosing, every day, to strive to improve our character, to strive toward goodness.
It’s not always easy to adhere to the standards, of course, but the instructions are straightforward and all we can do is try our best.