Pursuing Pleasure or Virtue: The Differential and Overlapping Well-Being Benefits of Hedonic and Eudaimonic Motives

Abstract

Hedonia (seeking pleasure and comfort) and eudaimonia (seeking to use and develop the best in oneself) are often seen as opposing pursuits, yet each may contribute to well-being in different ways. We conducted four studies (two correlational, one experience-sampling, and one intervention study) to determine outcomes associated with activities motivated by hedonic and eudaimonic aims. Overall, results indicated that: between persons (at the trait level) and within persons (at the momentary state level), hedonic pursuits related more to positive affect and carefreeness, while eudaimonic pursuits related more to meaning; between persons, eudaimonia related more to elevating experience (awe, inspiration, and sense of connection with a greater whole); within persons, hedonia related more negatively to negative affect; between and within persons, both pursuits related equally to vitality; and both pursuits showed some links with life satisfaction, though hedonia’s links were more frequent. People whose lives were high in both eudaimonia and hedonia had: higher degrees of most well-being variables than people whose lives were low in both pursuits (but did not differ in negative affect or carefreeness); higher positive affect and carefreeness than predominantly eudaimonic individuals; and higher meaning, elevating experience, and vitality than predominantly hedonic individuals. In the intervention study, hedonia produced more well-being benefits at short-term follow-up, while eudaimonia produced more at 3-month follow-up. The findings show that hedonia and eudaimonia occupy both overlapping and distinct niches within a complete picture of well-being, and their combination may be associated with the greatest well-being.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In this paper, we use the term “well-being” broadly to refer to one or more subjectively experienced states or evaluations of one’s life that could be rated as desirable or undesirable, such as positive affect, negative affect, life satisfaction, inspiration, awe, transcendence, sense of meaning, feeling carefree, and vitality.

References

  1. Aristotle. (2001). Nichomachean ethics. In R. McKeon (Ed.), The basic works of Aristotle (pp. 928–1112). New York: The Modern Library.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Battista, J., & Almond, R. (1973). The development of meaning in life. Psychiatry, 36, 409–427.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bostic, T. J., Rubio, D. M., & Hood, M. (2000). A validation of the subjective vitality scale using structural equation modeling. Social Indicators Research, 52, 313–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2007). Multilevel modeling of motivation. In A. D. Ong & M. H. M. Dulman (Eds.), Oxford handbook of methods in positive psychology (pp. 530–541). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Compton, W. C., Smith, M. L., Cornish, K. A., & Qualls, D. L. (1996). Factor structure of mental health measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 406–413.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Rathunde, K. (1993). The measurement of flow in everyday life: Toward a theory of emergent motivation. In J. E. Jacobs (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation 1992: Developmental perspectives on motivation (pp. 57–97). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Diener, E., & Emmons, R. A. (1984). The independence of positive and negative affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1105–1117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276–302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective wellbeing in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Fowers, B. J., Mollica, C. O., & Procaccu, E. N. (2009). Constitutive and instrumental goal orientations: Pathways to eudaimonic and hedonic well-being. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  13. Frankl, V. E. (1963). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Washington Square Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218–226.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Haidt, J. (2000). The positive emotion of elevation. Prevention and Treatment, 3.

  16. Hair, J., Anderson, R., Tatham, R., & Black, W. (1998). Multivariate data analysis. Prentice-Hall, NJ: Upper Saddle River.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Huta, V. (2007). Pursuing pleasure versus growth and excellence: Links with different aspects of well-being. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68(1-B), 649.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Kahneman, D. (1999). Objective happiness. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwartz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 3–25). New York: Russell Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Kahneman, D., Diener, E., & Schwarz, N. (Eds.). (1999). Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Kashdan, T. B., Biswas-Diener, R., & King, L. A. (2008). Reconsidering happiness: The costs of distinguishing between hedonics and eudaimonia. Journal of Positive Psychology, 3, 219–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297–314.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Keyes, C. L. M., Shmotkin, D., & Ryff, C. D. (2002). Optimizing well-being: The empirical encounter of two traditions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 1007–1022.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. King, L. A., & Napa, C. K. (1998). What makes a good life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 156–165.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005a). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803–855.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005b). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  27. McCullough, M. E., Pargament, K. I., & Thoresen, C. E. (Eds.). (2000). Forgiveness: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. McGregor, I., & Little, B. R. (1998). Personal projects, happiness, and meaning: On doing well and being yourself. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 494–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Moskowitz, D. S., Brown, K. W., & Cote, S. (1997). Reconceptualizing stability: Using time as a psychological dimension. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 6, 127–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Raudenbush, S. W., Bryk, A. S., & Congdon, R. (2004). HLM 6 for windows [computer software]. Lincolnwood, IL: Scientific Software International, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Reker, G. T., & Fry, P. S. (2003). Factor structure and invariance of personal meaning measures in cohorts of younger and older adults. Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 977–993.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2008). From ego depletion to vitality: Theory and findings concerning the facilitation of energy available to the self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 702–717.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Ryan, R. M., & Frederick, C. (1997). On energy, personality, and health: Subjective vitality as a dynamic reflection of well-being. Journal of Personality, 65, 529–565.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Ryan, R. M., & Huta, V. (2009). Wellness as healthy functioning or wellness as happiness: The importance of Eudaimonic Thinking. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 202–204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Ryan, R. M., Huta, V., & Deci, E. L. (2008). Living well: A self-determination theory perspective on eudaimonia. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 139–170.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069–1081.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The role of purpose in life and personal growth in positive human health. In P. T. P. Wong & P. S. Fry (Eds.), The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications (pp. 213–235). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Schmutte, P. S., & Ryff, C. D. (1997). Personality and well-being: Reexamining methods and meanings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 549–559.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Schooler, J. W., Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2003). The pursuit and assessment of happiness can be self-defeating. In I. Brocas & J. Carrillo (Eds.), The psychology of economic decisions. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Seligman, M. E. P., Rashid, T., & Parks, A. C. (2006). Positive psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 61, 774–788.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Is it possible to become happier? (And If So, How?). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 129–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 80–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Steger, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., & Oishi, S. (2008). Being good by doing good: Daily eudaimonic activity and well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 22–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Thompson, A., & Bolger, N. (1999). Emotional transmission in couples under stress. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 38–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Thrash, T. M., & Elliot, A. J. (2003). Inspiration as a psychological construct. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 871–889.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Urry, H. L., Nitschke, J. B., Dolski, I., Jackson, D. C., Dalton, K. M., Mueller, C. J., et al. (2004). Making a life worth living: Neural correlates of well-being. Psychological Science, 15, 367–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Vittersø, J. (2003). Flow versus life satisfaction: A projective use of cartoons to illustrate the difference between the evaluation approach and the intrinsic motivation approach to subjective quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 141–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Vittersø, J. (2004). Subjective well-being versus self-actualization: Using the flow-simplex to promote a conceptual, clarification of subjective quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 65, 299–331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Vittersø, J., Søholt, Y., Hetland, A., Thoresen, I. A., & Røysamb, E. (2009). Was hercules happy? Some answers from a functional model of human well-being. Social Indicators Research. doi:10.1007/s11205-009-9447-4.

  54. Waterman, A. S. (1993). Two conceptions of happiness: Contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 678–691.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Waterman, A. S., Schwartz, S. J., & Conti, R. (2008). The implications of two conceptions of happiness (hedonic enjoyment and eudaimonia) for the understanding of intrinsic motivation. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 41–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Veronika Huta.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Huta, V., Ryan, R.M. Pursuing Pleasure or Virtue: The Differential and Overlapping Well-Being Benefits of Hedonic and Eudaimonic Motives. J Happiness Stud 11, 735–762 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-009-9171-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Pleasure
  • Hedonism
  • Eudaimonia
  • Virtue
  • Well-being
  • Elevation