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Abstract

In an earlier paper (Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008), we outlined a critique of the distinction being made between eudaimonic and hedonic forms of happiness. That paper seems to have had the desired effect in stimulating discourse on this important subject as evidenced by a number of responses from our colleagues. In this paper, we address these responses collectively. In particular, we outline common intellectual ground with the responding authors as well as points of difference.
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The Journal of Positive Psychology
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Two traditions of happiness research, not two distinct types of happiness
Robert Biswas-Diener
a
; Todd B. Kashdan
b
; Laura A. King
c
a
Centre for Applied Positive Psychology, Milwaukie, OR, USA
b
Department of Psychology, George Mason
University, Fairfax, VA, USA
c
Department of Psychology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA
Online Publication Date: 01 May 2009
To cite this Article Biswas-Diener, Robert, Kashdan, Todd B. and King, Laura A.(2009)'Two traditions of happiness research, not two
distinct types of happiness',The Journal of Positive Psychology,4:3,208 — 211
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/17439760902844400
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The Journal of Positive Psychology
Vol. 4, No. 3, May 2009, 208–211
Two traditions of happiness research, not two distinct types of happiness
Robert Biswas-Diener
a
*
, Todd B. Kashdan
b
*
and Laura A. King
c
a
Centre for Applied Positive Psychology, Milwaukie, OR, USA;
b
Department of Psychology, George Mason University,
Fairfax, VA, USA;
c
Department of Psychology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA
In an earlier paper (Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008), we outlined a critique of the distinction being made
between eudaimonic and hedonic forms of happiness. That paper seems to have had the desired effect in
stimulating discourse on this important subject as evidenced by a number of responses from our colleagues. In
this paper, we address these responses collectively. In particular, we outline common intellectual ground with the
responding authors as well as points of difference.
Keywords: happiness; meaning in life; subjective well-being, eudaimonia; self-determination theory
Introduction
The surge of attention given to eudaimonia in the
scientific literature (e.g., Breines, Crocker, & Garcia,
2008; Ryan & Deci, 2001), textbooks (Compton, 2004;
Snyder & Lopez, 2007), and the mainstream media
(e.g., O: The Oprah Magazine , March 2008), motivated
us to carefully scrutinize what we know, what we don’t
know, and whether there are any costs to the wide
adoption of the idea of two types of happiness. We
believe that eudaimonia has entered the lexicon of
psychology with minimal scientific scrutiny and felt it
necessary to ask some basic questions about this topic.
We believe that the science of happiness will benefit
not only from our skepticism but also from the
intelligent commentaries to our paper. Indeed, we
would like to thank our colleagues who took the time
to present many insightful comments related to our
original article on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being
(Kashdan et al., 2008). We appreciate the willingness
of these authors to meet the bold spirit of our essay
with similar courage. Although we did not intend to
baffle or provoke, we believe that our article has been
effective in our fundamental aim of increasing critical
dialogue and introducing intellectual caution about the
topic of eudaimonic happiness. We do not want to lose
either this forward momentum or the clarity of this
dialogue by fault-finding each response in this issue.
Rather than responding to each individual point made
by Delle Fave and Bassi (2009), Keyes and Annas
(2009), Ryan and Huta (2009) and Waterman (2008),
here we address broad points of agreement and
departure.
Common ground
Well-being profiles
It might appear that we argue for a monolithic
approach to happiness (what Ryan and Huta, this
issue, refer to as the ‘Big One’). If this is how our
article, and our recent research on the topic (e.g.,
Kashdan & Steger, 2007; King & Hicks, 2007; King,
Hicks, Krull, & Del Gaiso, 2006), was interpreted then
we did an inadequate job of describing our position.
Our approach is exemplified best by the following
passage from our original article:
Our reading of the research literature suggests that
there is good evidence that eudaimonic and hedonic
aspects of well-being can operate in tandem ...
Focusing research attention on specific dimensions of
well-being allows for greater clarity in communication,
facilitates comparison ...and promotes flexibility in
the mixture of well-being variables used in research
(Kashdan et al., 2008, p. 228).
This position overlaps with the work by Richard
Ryan and Ed Deci (2000) on self-determination theory
(SDT) and those who continue to extend this model
(e.g. Sheldon, 2004). Their research shows that the
types of goals people pursue and the reasons they are
pursued act as a synergistic aspect of a person’s well-
being. Other research from SDT underscores how
autonomy supportive environments can facilitate well-
being. These researchers use a continuum of motiva-
tion and various psychological needs that, when
satisfied, provide the nutriments to feel good and
function at more optimal levels. They describe how the
degree to which these needs are satisfied is important,
*Corresponding author. Email: Robert@cappeu.org; tkashdan@gmu.edu
ISSN 1743–9760 print/ISSN 1743–9779 online
ß 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17439760902844400
http://www.informaworld.com
Downloaded By: [Biswas-Diener, Robert] At: 20:39 15 May 2009
and the degree to which a person shows balance in
satisfying autonomy, competence, and belonging needs
are both important (two related but separable elements
of well-being; Sheldon & Niemiec, 2006). The SDT
approach is sensible in that researchers clarify how
some studies focus on subjective experiences (whether
affect or cognitive appraisals of life satisfaction) and
other studies focus on other levels of analysis including
strivings, psychological needs, and the environments
that best allow these needs to be met so that people can
perform at their best.
We also want to emphasize the valuable distinction
between symptoms and functioning made by Keyes
and Annas (2009). Researchers often measure symp-
toms in clinical trials as a proxy for functioning when
they are related but distinct (McKnight & Kashdan, in
press). We often forget the importance of behavior and
functioning and implicitly assume that by measuring
positive experiences we are measuring positive func-
tioning. Although they are positively correlated, as
Keyes, Shmotkin, and Ryff (2002) demonstrate, they
are related but independent. It would be unfortunate if
our interventions to improve people’s well-being only
focused on symptoms or how they feel about their
lives, and failed to address their functioning. To our
knowledge, the research by Keyes and colleagues is the
first time that measures of well-being were differen-
tiated according to this framework (symptoms vs.
functioning). This is exactly the type of conceptually
meaningful, precise strategy for distinguishing well-
being constructs that we feel has been lacking in
discussions of eudaimonia.
We would like to emphasize that, concerning these
and related approaches (Kashdan & Steger, 2007; King
et al., 2006; Sheldon & Tan, 2007), there need be no
intellectual exclusivity and there ought to be flexibility
in studying the inter-relationships among these philo-
sophical ‘camps.’ Compare this with the approach
being offered by Waterman (2008) who asserts that
there are qualitatively different types of happiness and
that certain elements are categorized separately from
others. This latter approach is guided by a priori beliefs
as the data are not yet available to support this idea.
Instead of referring to qualitatively different types of
happiness (those that are phenomenologically felt as
distinct from one another) we believe it is more precise
and flexible to provide conceptual frameworks for
addressing the question of why particular combina-
tions of elements (at various levels of analysis) will lead
to various outcomes. Taking context into considera-
tion, as do Delle Fave and Bassi (2009), and consider-
ing the intricate interplay of well-being variables at
various levels of analysis, as do Keyes and Annas
(2009) and Ryan and Huta (2009) provides the
foundation for examining how meaning making,
affective experience, and overall functioning relate to
one another.
Points of departure
What is eudaimonia?
In our original article, we suggest that the sheer
number of constructs and variables related to eudai-
monia serve to confuse, rather than clarify, this
interesting concept. What becomes clear from reading
the commentaries, particularly those by Waterman and
Keyes and Annas, is how poorly unified is the study of
eudaimonia. Although Keyes provides an explicit
definition of eudaimonia, the vast majority of people
studying this topic are not using his definition or
operationalization. In fact, of the four responses to our
article, no two presents the same definition of
eudaimonia. Only two of the commentaries address
the importance of context in studying happiness (Delle
Fave & Bassi, 2009; Ryan & Huta, 2009), only two
commentaries explicitly inform us that the work of
recent philosophers must be read to understand the
nature of eudaimonia (Keyes & Annas, 2009;
Waterman, 2008), only one of the commentaries
partitions certain positive affects as being part of
hedonics and other positive affects as part of eudai-
monics (Waterman, 2008), and of the three commen-
taries that address the operationalization of
eudaimonia, none of them use the same conceptual
framework or measurement strategy (Keyes & Annas,
2009; Ryan & Huta; Waterman, 2008).
It could be that the apparent disagreement about
eudaimonia stems from the philosophical ambiguity of
the concept. A variety of authors have interpreted
Aristotle’s original writings and, for scientific pur-
poses, clearly, there is not sufficient consensus to treat
this concept as a singular variable. Waterman (2008),
himself, points to areas of personal disagreement with
Aristotle and both Waterman and Keyes and Annas
discuss modern day ‘eudaemonist’ theorists; but
neither of them provides a guide to how we are to
evaluate the quality of the various interpretations.
Should we be faithful to Aristotle’s original writings?
What is it about the modern eudaemonist theories that
might better lend themselves to empirical study? On
what basis should we accept Waterman’s (2008)
revision to Aristotle?
Upon reading these commentaries, it becomes clear
that, to date, there remain serious problems in the
translation of eudaimonia from philosophy to psychol-
ogy. Certainly, the criticisms raised by Keyes can be
levied at almost every reference to Artistotle’s work on
eudaimonia in the psychology literature (e.g.,
Compton, 2004; Peterson, 2006; Ryan & Deci, 2001;
Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008; Snyder & Lopez, 2007;
Waterman, 1993, 2007; Waterman, Schwartz, & Conti,
2008). Moreover, we are still unclear as to how and
why flow, vitality, and interest are in the eudaimonia
‘bin’ and are divorced from other high energy, positive
emotional experiences and motivational states that are
The Journal of Positive Psychology 209
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in the hedonics ‘bin.’ The same ambiguity applies to
meaning in life, which is a cognitive appraisal that a
person makes about his or her life. Each of us is a
proponent of good theory and, despite four commen-
taries, none have provided a theoretical rationale for
these distinctions.
Further, the question of ultimate value of embrac-
ing this all-encompassing ambiguous construct remains
unanswered. We stand by our original argument
perfectly described by Ryan and Huta, ‘eudaimonic
sensibilities add an unnecessary layer of obscurity to
the theory.’ Considering the difficulty of communicat-
ing science to non-scientists, we don’t understand the
utility of adding additional terminology to ‘categorize’
self-determination theory as eudaimonia. Even Ryan
and Huta agree that it is the processes, functions,
values, and organization of elements within a person
that is important. What is gained by reducing this
complexity into a category that is distinct from useful
elements that help flesh out the theoretical model such
as emotions and cognitive appraisals about the self,
other people, and the world?
It is the notion of observing various combinations
of variables that we argue is needed. Subjective well-
being components (positive affect, negative affect,
judgments about life) are not separate from other
well-being components, they are in the same nomolo-
gical net and are even included in the same conceptual
models. For instance, Waterman suggests that there
are three categories of experience: occasions on which
both are present, occasions on which hedonia is present
but not eudaimonia, and occasions on which neither
are present. This is our point. Guided by a meaningful
conceptual framework, we should be examining path-
ways between matrices of variables, with an eye toward
relevant moderator variables (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 2000;
Lent, 2004).
Hedonic pleasure remains hedonic pleasure
We remain steadfast in our original assertion that
existing evidence does not support a conceptualization
of two qualitatively distinct forms of happiness.
Regardless of its source, it is still hedonic happiness.
Considering the conceptualization proposed by Telfer,
and described by Waterman (2008), we can see that
hedonic pleasure may have been a dead end road
for those interesting in eudaimonia to begin with.
According to Telfer (1990), hedonic pleasure sometimes
occurs in the absence of eudaimonia, but eudaimonia
never occurs in the absence of hedonic pleasure. This
conceptualization, of course, requires empirical support
addressing the question of whether engaging in eudai-
monic activities is always associated with feelings of
pleasure. Should such a conceptualization prove to be
supported by research, it certainly has important
ramifications for research on eudaimonia, suggesting,
at its base, that hedonic happiness does not differentiate
eudaimonia from non-eudaimonic activity. Hedonic
happiness, instead, is beside the point. If hedonic
pleasure does not distinguish eudaimonic activity from
other activities (except quantitatively) then why focus
on hedonic well-being in research on variables purport-
ing to represent eudaimonic tendencies? If hedonic
feelings of pleasure are simply a by-product of such
activities (Deci & Ryan, 2000), why focus on these
feelings in research on eudaimonia? And why label
those feelings qualitatively different from hedonic
feelings that emerge from other pleasurable activities?
It is surely no small irony that research intending to
demonstrate that happiness is not everything should
focus, nevertheless, on hedonic well-being as an out-
come. The quantitative characteristic of this hedonic
pleasure (e.g., its level, frequency, or intensity) would
seem to be the last place one might look to demonstrate
a qualitative difference between two types of human
experiences. Instead, researchers might examine vari-
ables that are, themselves, clearly empirically and con-
ceptually distinct from hedonic well-being, to examine
the non-affective consequences of the activities and
motivations that are thought to represent eudaimonia.
Hedonic pleasure reinforces many human behav-
iors, some of which have been labeled eudaimonic. But
these feelings would seem to be the least important
aspect of the Good Life, from the eudaimonist
perspective. We concur with Waterman in calling for a
more expansive list of outcomes that ought to be
considered as consequences that might be pursued as
they relate to the ‘why’ of happiness (but not happiness,
itself). Surely, these more distal variables would be the
place to pursue the notion that some activities or
motivations represent a nobler life than otherwise. To
call the hedonic feeling of pleasure that accompany (and
perhaps maintain) such behaviors qualitatively different
from the pleasure that derives from other less noble
activities is simply not tenable from the data to date.
As Waterman (2008) points out, ‘eudaimonic
research’ is relatively young and we believe this
scientific tradition should not be presented or accepted
as more established than it is. We are concerned about
the potential dangers of people misinterpreting a
distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness
as meaning that there are two unrelated experiences of
happiness. In the end, we agree with Ryan and Deci
(2001) that there are two intellectual traditions of
happiness research, and that looking at happiness
antecedents and outcomes through a variety of lenses is
instructive and important.
Acknowledgements
The contributions of the first two authors to this manuscript
were equal. This work was supported by National Institute of
Mental Health grant MH-73937 to Todd B. Kashdan.
210 R. Biswas-Diener et al.
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The significant contributions of Kashdan and Colleagues, and Waterman are acknowledged and some suggestions are brought forward. In particular, qualitative studies, and a cross-cultural perspective taking into account non-Western traditions are needed to disentangle happiness and related constructs. Moreover, the importance of contextualizing the eudaimonic construct of optimal experience within the framework of psychological selection is highlighted.
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This study examined curiosity as a mechanism for achieving and maintaining high levels of well-being and meaning in life. Of primary interest was whether people high in trait curiosity derive greater well-being on days when they are more curious. We also tested whether trait and daily curiosity led to greater, sustainable well-being. Predictions were tested using trait measures and 21 daily diary reports from 97 college students. We found that on days when they are more curious, people high in trait curiosity reported more frequent growth-oriented behaviors, and greater presence of meaning, search for meaning, and life satisfaction. Greater trait curiosity and greater curiosity on a given day also predicted greater persistence of meaning in life from one day into the next. People with greater trait curiosity reported more frequent hedonistic events but they were associated with less pleasure compared to the experiences of people with less trait curiosity. The benefits of hedonistic events did not last beyond the day of their occurrence. As evidence of construct specificity, curiosity effects were not attributable to Big Five personality traits or daily positive or negative mood. Our results provide support for curiosity as an ingredient in the development of well-being and meaning in life. The pattern of findings casts doubt on some distinctions drawn between eudaimonia and hedonic well-being traditions.