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The hedonic and eudaimonic approaches to wellbeing

The concept of wellbeing is difficult to define, and as yet there is not an agreed operationalised definition (Dodge et al. 2012).

However, there are two major conceptual approaches to the empirical study of wellbeing, each founded on a different perspective of human nature, hedonism and eudaimonism. Here is a summary.

Hedonic approach Eudaimonic approach
Wellbeing is the presence of positive affect, and the absence of negative affect Wellbeing is focused on meaning and self-realisation (an individual’s ability to realise their own unique potential)

(Ryan and Deci 2006)

Below is a very brief introduction to both approaches.

The hedonic approach

The hedonic approach originated with the Greek philosopher Aristippus, who asserted that the goal of life was to experience maximum pleasure, while avoiding pain.

More recently, Kahneman (1999: ix) asserted that hedonic psychology was the study of what:

‘…makes experiences and life pleasant and unpleasant, and is concerned with feelings of pleasure and pain, of interest and boredom, of joy and sorrow, and of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.’

Kahneman (1999: ix)

Kahneman (1999) argues that hedonic pleasure and pain governs an individual’s life, by providing information on what we should do, and determining what we actually do.

Subjective wellbeing

One approach to wellbeing that utilises hedonic psychology is Subjective Wellbeing (SWB), which can be broadly understood in terms of affective balance and perceived life satisfaction. Affective balance is determined by subtracting the number of negative experiences a person has from the number of positive experiences they have. While perceived life satisfaction is the sense of satisfaction a person has with life (Diener and Suh 1997).

The eudaimonic approach

The eudaimonic approach also originated in Greece, deriving from Aristotle’s view of human nature that a person’s wellbeing is dependent on their achieving their potential.

Ryan, Huta and Deci (2008) argue that wellbeing does not consist of maximising positive experiences and minimising negative ones, but refers instead to living fully, to allow for the richest possible human potential.

The six-factor model of psychological wellbeing

One such model that employs a eudaimonic approach to psychological wellbeing is the six-factor model of psychological wellbeing (Ryff and Sarason 1989). This model posits that there are six factors which contribute to an individual’s wellbeing:

  • Positive relations with others
  • Sense of purpose
  • Self-acceptance
  • Personal growth
  • Autonomy
  • Environmental mastery



Online texts from locate.coventry.ac.uk will only be available to students who have signed up to take all the courses in the Program Work and Wellbeing.

Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M. (2008) ‘Hedonia, Eudaimonia and Well-being: An Introduction’. Journal of Happiness [online] 9, 1-11. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_springer_jour10.1007/s10902-006-9018-1&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Diener, E., Suh, E. (1997) ‘Measuring Quality of Life: Economic, Social, and Subjective Indicators’. Social Indicators Research [online] 40 (1/2). 189-216. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_springer_jour1006859511756&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Dodge, R., Daly, A. P., Huyton, J., Sanders, L. D. (2012) ‘The Challenge of Defining Wellbeing’ International Journal of Wellbeing [online] 2 (3). available from https://internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/view/89 [28 March 2019]

Kahneman, D., Diener, E. (1999) Well-being: Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Chapter One: Objective Happiness

Ryff, C. D., Sarason, I. G. (1989) ‘Happiness is Everything, or Is It? Explorations on the Meaning of Psychological Well-Being’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology [online] 57 (6) 1069–1081. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_proquest57763919&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

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This article is from the free online course:

Wellbeing at Work: An Introduction

Coventry University