Happiness Where the Aftertaste is Better Than the Taste

From a comment on a great NYTimes article on moral courage:

Much is made of the pursuit of happiness in US society but rarely do we talk about the two main types of happiness as delineated by ancient philosophers — hedonic vs. eudaemonic happiness. The former, centered around the usual things we think of as making us happy (status, money, love, food, sex, etc.), is overemphasized where as the latter, which is about living a meaningful life, is rarely discussed. People like Mr. Sayarthi have the latter in spades.

I like to call eudaemonic happiness the happiness with the better aftertaste.  Home brewed root beer with real sassafras root is like it.  The taste is fine but the aftertaste is even better.  Eudaemonic happiness is meaningful, communal, and often takes some maturity and legwork to derive pleasure from (hedonic happiness the pleasure is usually immediate, even an infant eating ice cream can experience it).  For example volunteering at a soup kitchen might not lift your mood as much as a session of video games but it will likely leave a longer term positive after effect.

Also we tend to remember things in story form.  Negative things usually unfold in story form (for example a jerk cut you off and you had to swerve into another lane).  A lot of hedonic things like sitting on the beach or eating a great meal are pleasurable but not easily turned into stories and thus often only called to mind when one is in another pleasurable state.  Eudaemonic happiness involves things that are often stories.  For example moving your friend into a new apartment often stuff will happen that people will joke or commiserate about for years to come.  The things might not be pleasurable but memories of them will generally elicit a positive response.

Effects of eudaemonic happiness are fragile.  If you are altruistic and loving and people don’t reciprocate with gratefulness, you will get a lot less of the positive effect.  This starts a vicious cycle where people stop giving because the receivers aren’t grateful.

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