Language constrains our range of expression. It isn’t easy to express a thought or a feeling with words when the language doesn’t have a matching concept. We resort to other forms of expression—paintings, dance, music, stories—to express the things we cannot name. That exploration is beautiful and results in art that can move us. But some things need a word.
Happiness is one such concept. As a word, “happiness” has loaded connotations—something that’s come under psychological scrutiny and spurred entire industries of scam artists peddling products to sell you this squishy, intangible feeling. Part of the problem, I believe, is the erosion of vocabulary. The Greeks had two concepts for happiness. One is how we (a modern, English-speaking culture) traditionally think about happiness—daily feelings of joy, what I call “short-term” happiness. The second concept is less concerned with day-to-day feelings but with a sense of directional satisfaction or “long-term” happiness. The Greeks called this second concept “eudaimonia.”
It’s tempting to optimize for daily happiness, as we’re rewarded with instant gratification—feelings of joy and pleasure. A meaningful life needs daily delight, but should it come at the cost of eudaimonia? This directional happiness prioritizes long-term satisfaction and fulfillment—which does not reward daily—and can only arrive after continual investment. Could scratching the itch for eudaimonia address some concerns and anxieties that plague us?
Upfront the sacrifice for a life trajectory that maximizes joy over the long run.
“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”