I sit on my couch, watching television, when a commercial for Coca-Cola invites me to open a bottle of soda, and thus, open happiness. It is in that moment I realize why Martin Seligman, who is often referred to as the father of positive psychology, is not a big fan of the word “happiness”. Certainly, a bottle of soda, a piece of chocolate, or a scoop of ice-cream can give us momentary joy, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying the simple pleasures offered by life. But is that the kind of happiness humanity has been seeking for millennia? Is that all there is to a happy life?
While discussing the concept of happiness thousands of years ago, Aristotle had made an important distinction between feeling happy (hedonia) and being happy (eudaimonia). Aristotle’s term for happiness, “eudaimonia”, can be more accurately translated to “well-being” or “flourishing” rather than the popular English term “happiness”. In the pursuit of happiness in modern times, Seligman also argues that while positive emotions are a part of human happiness, they are not all there is. In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, he suggests that the constituents of well-being go by the acronym PERMA, which stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement.
For the sake of simplicity, I use the terms “happiness”, “flourishing”, and “well-being” interchangeably on this blog, on this website, and in my work. However, I think it is important to clarify that when I use any of these words, I use them in Aristotle’s eudaimonic sense rather than in Coca-Cola’s hedonic sense.