Eudaimonia (Greek): having good spirit, flourishing, living well
As a pretty miserable child, happiness was something waiting for me, just around the corner. Life was littered with small disappointments, and I spent much emotional energy trying to tidy things up. Our family existed in perpetual crisis mode, a swirl of cigarette butts and lost library books and thrown away homework papers. The very notion of birthday celebrations or family trips, clean clothes or nutritious meals, was quite out of the question.
And so I looked forward to future happiness. The problem was, my vision of happiness came from old movies and sappy books, with the string music swelling as the main characters triumphed, for once and for all. I never thought of the “after” that might not have been “happily ever.” I couldn’t stand the idea of more turmoil and upset in my life (even though, looking back, I never had to weather a true childhood tragedy). Surely there was a Happy Place I’d reach as an adult, where I could check my cares at the door!
Grown up life quickly set me straight. There were many moments of joy, of course (love and marriage with Steve, my five babies, friendships made and kept). But there were always shadows: money struggles, early loss of my sister Mo, two miscarriages, the slowly gathering cloud of impending mental illness. These certainly didn’t belong under the umbrella of “Happiness.” I began to wonder if happiness, true happiness, existed in real life at all.
But recently, as I continued learning about the ups and downs (and ups and downs) of my bipolar disorder, I came across the word “eudaimonia.” As noted above, this is a state of flourishing, of living well. Eudaimonia is the desired condition of a person whose mental illness is under control. She or he is at peace, living a life of purpose, blossoming where they are. No swelling string music, perhaps, but a much gentler soundtrack. Meaningful work, nurturing relationships, balance and harmony. A solid, reliable structure, built to weather the inevitable storms of life.
Eudaimonia? Is that all there is?
As a young person, I might have rejected this concept. “Contentment” was something old people might settle for, sitting in a rocking chair, and I wanted more. More fireworks. More excitement. But later in life, when I got my “more,” my mania, the ecstasy was distorted and frightening—and always followed by a crash. Sure, I felt “happy,” as I’d understood happiness to be, but the cost was too high.
For the last 15 years, I have been in a state of eudaimonia, for the most part. Life has flowed along, with bumps to be sure, but with work that matters, and people I truly love, a framework for my days, and joy found in smaller, simpler things. To my great surprise, I have at last found what happiness is, for me.
And if this is all there is, I’ll take it, and know that I am lucky indeed.