Happiness can be a pretty elusive thing to try and define. It’s something most of us want, but also something that can seem difficult to find.

We know it when we feel it, but it’s not always clear how we can feel it consistently and how to make it resilient. When I say resilient, I mean that it can’t be worn away by the things going on around us.

These days, we can find hundreds of definitions on happiness, the happy life, and how to get there.

Some of this ranges from the well-being equivalent of get-rich-quick products to more out-there ideas about the alignment of the planets or the fullness of the moon.

I like things a little more tangible and practical than all that, and it just so happens that the ancient Greeks had a very specific term that I find to be one of the more helpful ideas.

This term is eudaimonia, and it’s helpful because it has a clear definition, and the Greeks did a lot of work in paving the way for us human beings to achieve it.

In this article, we’re going to start by explaining what eudaimonia is. Then, for the more curious among you, I’ll describe what the ancient Greeks thought about it with ideas from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

What is Eudaimonia?

So, what is it?

The word eudaimonia is a Greek word that translates as a state of human flourishing, overall well-being, or having a ‘good spirit’.

The term is commonly used throughout ancient philosophy to describe a state of wellbeing, happiness, and contentment.

In ancient Stoicism, the term was used for a state in which a person was living in accordance with virtue, nature, and reason and thereby living a life of happiness and flourishing.

As we’ll see later, the philosophy of eudaimonia can be seen in the works of greats like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato.

In many of the Greek schools of philosophy, eudaimonia was seen as a path to a virtuous and ethical way of life. In these Greek schools, the highest good we can achieve is a life lived in alignment with reason and virtue.

To the Greeks, this life would then, by default, lead to a state of eudaimonia. So the whole thing can be seen as a cycle of virtue ethics creating happiness and happiness helping us behave with virtue.

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Stoicism and Eudaimonia:

The Stoics believed that the achievement of eudaimonia was not possible through external means such as pleasure seeking, material wealth, or the avoidance of pain.

Rather, authentic happiness is achieved only through the development of our internal state and our character.

This means that happiness comes from our own thoughts, when we practice virtue, and from our actions. Our inner world.

Expanding on this, the Stoics, including figures like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, believed that eudaimonia was achieved by living a life of virtue. In their view, these key virtues, in a moral sense, were:

  1. wisdom – the ability to act with reason, self-knowledge and see the world as it is, (rather than project onto it and see what we want to see)

  2. courage – the ability to do the right thing despite external pressure not to

  3. justice – our moral obligation to fellow men and women. Our ability to behave as a fair and just member of society and not harm our fellow man.

  4. temperance – our ability to exercise restraint and discipline

They argued that by displaying these virtues, an individual could maintain a good life and a resilient and lasting happiness despite the hardships they might face.

The four cardinal virtues are also a way to structure positive psychology and better our psychological well-being through the way we think and act. This helps us to avoid the negative emotions that can come with shame and regret.

Here are some ways to develop a deeper eudaimonic well-being with Stoic philosophy:

1. Living According to Nature

In Stoicism, as a moral philosophy, a high importance was placed on living in accordance with nature, or the rational order of the universe.

For the Stoics, living in accordance with nature meant aligning ourselves with the rational structure of the world around us.

They believed the universe is governed by a rational order (called the logos), and living in harmony with this order is one way to achieve eudaimonia.

When the nature of the universe and our place within it are understood, we can then learn to accept everything that happens around us and find peace where once we only found frustration and resistance.

The path to living in accordance with this Stoic nature is found in developing wisdom. We can look at the world, its people, and ourselves more objectively and see things for what they really are, free from our own personal biases, preconceptions, and beliefs.

2. Emotional Resilience and Virtue

The Stoics believed that external events were neither inherently good nor bad.

Things like getting as much wealth as possible, fame, or possessions are simply indifferent. The goodness and badness come from the people who use them. For example, money can be donated to charity or used to sabotage another person’s life.

Generally, it’s our judgements about external things that cause us distress, not the things themselves.

When we practice detachment from these judgments and focus on what is within our control (primarily our own thoughts and actions), we can achieve a greater positive affect on our inner peace and, thus, get closer to eudaimonia.

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Socrates and Eudaimonia

It’s difficult to talk about eudaimonia and not mention Socrates.

Socrates, much like Aristotle and Plato, believed that eudaimonia was the ultimate good and the goal of life. However, unlike common interpretations of happiness as a state of pleasure or contentment, Socrates argued that true eudaimonia was intrinsically linked to virtue and wisdom.

In this context, virtue is a form of knowledge or wisdom. For example, it takes wisdom to know the difference between good and evil.

For him, a life of moral excellence was essential for achieving eudaimonia.

Knowledge and Virtue

A central tenet of Socrates’ philosophy was that knowledge is virtue. He believed that understanding what is right naturally leads to doing what is right.

Therefore, eudaimonia is achieved through a continuous pursuit of knowledge and self-reflection.

He famously claimed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” highlighting the importance he placed on self-awareness and moral introspection.

Plato on Eudaimonia

Plato expanded on the work of his mentor, Socrates’.

This included the concept of eudaimonia. Plato’s philosophy on eudaimonia is complex, combining his theories of forms, the soul, and the just state (seen in Republic).

The cornerstone of Plato’s vision of eudaimonia was the belief that true happiness and fulfilment are attainable through living a life of all the virtues and wisdom.

However, unlike Socrates, who focused more on individual moral conduct, Plato envisioned eudaimonia in a broader societal context as well.

He believed that a just society, structured according to the principles of reason and virtue, was crucial for the positive emotions and good health of its citizens. A structure designed to promote eudaimonia.

Plato’s Republic:

In his work “The Republic,” Plato describes a tripartite soul, consisting of the rational, spirited, and appetitive parts. Reflecting human needs.

He parallels this soul structure with his ideal state, divided into:

  1. Rulers (philosopher-kings)

  2. Guardians

  3. Producers

For Plato, eudaimonia is achieved when each part of the soul performs its function in harmony with the others, guided by reason and our human nature.

The rational part of the soul, aligned with wisdom and understanding, should govern the spirited and appetitive aspects, which are associated with emotions and desires, respectively.

Plato’s Theory of Forms:

This emphasis on reason and wisdom is roughly in line with Socratic thought, but Plato’s idea of the forms adds another layer to his opinions on eudaimonia.

Plato imagined a realm of perfect forms. These forms represent the purest representation of everything around us. The physical world is only a shadow of these forms. The things around us are just an echo of the pure version of that form.

True knowledge, and thus the path to eudaimonia, involves understanding these forms, particularly the form of the good.

For Plato, the Form of the Good is the highest object of knowledge and the source of all other forms, including truth and beauty.

Plato also saw eudaimonia as interconnected with moral virtue. To achieve eudaimonia, one must cultivate virtues such as justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom.

These virtues enable a person to align their desires and actions with the good, leading to a harmonious and fulfilling life.

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Aristotle’s Philosophy of Eudaimonia

The ancient philosopher Aristotle had his own take on the idea of eudaimonia. There is reference to the subject in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, a work referring to the ‘science of happiness’.

He believed that eudaimonia itself was the highest good. This is a little different from the Stoics, who believed virtue to be the highest good. And similar to other schools of philosophy, Aristotle taught that eudaimonia is attained through a virtuous life, one that is lived in accordance with reason and in harmony with the world around them.

To Aristotle, eudaimonia is not just the feeling of happiness or a temporary state of pleasure. It represented the highest form of human good, the ultimate end and purpose of human existence.

Eudaimonia is about living well, where ‘living well’ refers to a life aligned with virtue. It’s not the feeling of temporary pleasure we might get from food, video games, or drugs. It’s a robust feeling of overall well-being that comes from a life well lived.

The Golden Mean

Aristotle’s concept of virtue involves finding a balance, or what he calls the golden mean.

This is the balance between excess and asceticism.

If we indulge too much in the world around us and allow our actions to be driven by pleasure or the avoidance of pain, we risk addiction or finding ourselves on the hedonic treadmill.

On the other side of the coin, if we go too far the other way and become ascetic, we can miss out on a lot of what life has to offer.

Rationality and Self-Actualization

Aristotle believed that rationality was the thing that separated man from the beast, and our reason was what made the human being unique.

Therefore, a life lived in accordance with reason is essential for achieving eudaimonia.

In this context, living with reason is about realizing one’s full potential as a human being. It involves the proper development of the self as a rational human being, both in intellectual capacities and moral virtues.

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How can we achieve eudaimonia?

The Stoics believed that eudaimonia could be reached through living with virtue and the development of good moral character.

When we behave in destructive ways through greed, anger, impulse, or jealousy, we damage our moral character, destabilize our inner tranquility, and make the path to eudaimonia more difficult.

So how can we live with virtue and help ourselves reach eudaimonia?

Living a life of virtue is a goal for many people, for many different reasons, and while the road to virtue is varied, as is what virtue means for different people, here are some ways we can develop the quality in our own lives:

Understand what virtue means to you:

The best first step here is to understand exactly what virtue means to you. What does it mean to live with virtue? What does a virtuous person look like?

Then reflect on what virtues you value and what priority you give to each. This will vary from person to person depending on our values, experiences and beliefs, so it’s important to decide this for ourselves rather than adopt someone else’s

Set goals for yourself:

After we understand the virtues that mean something to us and what we picture when we hear the word happiness, we can then look at our own lives and try to understand how these concepts of virtue and wisdom can be injected into them.

This is a core part of personal growth.

How will you work on wisdom? How will you develop temperance? What will you do to be more honest? All of this reading and study of ancient Greek philosophy is nothing if it does not go into practice.

Practice makes perfect:

There are multiple opportunities every day that will allow us to inject these virtues into our lives.

It can be eating well, sleeping well, being more honest with people, exercising, donating to charity, reading and learning, meditation and self-reflection, being kinder to people and to ourselves, forgiveness, etc

Some of these will have more personal importance for different people. It can even be looking for


Like many things, our practice will shift and adapt over time.

Keep an eye on how your personal practice is going, if any changes are needed, how you’re doing with regards to changing behaviour, etc.

It’s important to remember that the development of virtue is a lifelong process; there’s no end point and no finish line.

It’s simply the path of living in such a way that improves our impact on the world and, in doing so, provides us with happiness and peace of mind.

Further Reading:

The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

This is the most well-known work on Aristotle’s ethics. The book contains ten sections and explains the ideas of how to live a good life.

The Republic by Plato

This is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato around 375 BC. It’s a thought experiment on justice and the running of an ideal city state, reflecting ideas from Plato’s ethics.

The Enchiridion by Epictetus

The Enchiridion (handbook) of Epictetus is a manual on Stoic practice written by a student of Epictetus, Arrian. It’s a short book packed with Stoic wisdom and ideas on how to live a good, complete life

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