Article by Obelisk

After 14 years, learning the Greek language in high school finally paid off. It was the concepts hedonia and eudaimonia that gave me new insights on happiness.

The Greek philosophers used the terms to describe different pathways to reach happiness. The hedonistic view is that happiness is the polar opposite of suffering; the presence of happiness indicates the absence of pain. Because of this, hedonists believe that the purpose of life is to maximise happiness, which minimises misery.

On the other side of the debate is eudaimonia. Like the pronunciation, the meaning is more complex. It defines happiness as the pursuit of becoming a better person. It’s about authenticity, meaning, personal growth and striving for excellence. The distinction between the two comes down to whether happiness is a destination or a journey.

In achieving happiness at work, we see that the view of happiness also influences the actions taken to improve it. Some organisations want to achieve happiness with pleasure and comfort by organising fun activities, by giving rewards or with extra days off. Other organisations focus more on purpose and personal development to encourage happiness in employees.

The good news is that both approaches have positive effects on job attitudes and extra-role performance. On the other hand, both ways of working can be seen as  incomplete and they may involve risks. One-sided focus on pleasure only gives a brief sense of happiness each time, but before long we grow accustomed to these pleasures. In a phenomenon that experts call ‘hedonic adaptation’ our level of happiness reverts to what it was before. Focusing purely on development and purpose is maybe more noble, but can be very demanding and tiring if there is not enough return. The search for happiness then leads to persistent stress instead of well-being.

Professor Nico Rose, an expert in Positive Psychology, presents an integrated approach with the chart below. His starting point is that feeling good and feeling purpose both play a crucial role in  keeping employees fully engaged and productive. He calls it the “fulfilled (working) life”.

Source: mappalicious, the German side of Positive Psychology

Source: mappalicious, the German side of Positive Psychology

The difficult task for every employee and organisation is to ensure that there is comfort and pleasure on the road to purpose. However, this can be difficult. Nevertheless, we can start by looking for meaningful experiences that give pleasure, setting intermediate goals in development, celebrating small successes, expressing appreciation, creating a good atmosphere and taking care of each other and ourselves.

So next time you’re in your workplace, try it for yourself. For example, think about any meaningful experiences at work, or the pleasures which you experience. This can be anything, it is your own personal experience. It could be he ability to have meaningful conversations with your co-workers, or the ethos of your organisation as a whole.