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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Eudaimonia

 

When the late psychologist Albert Ellis developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), he incorporated into this psychotherapeutic modality principles of Stoicism. Regarding this merger, Ellis stated:

 

This principle, which I have inducted from many psychotherapeutic sessions with scores of patients during the last several years, was originally discovered and stated by the ancient Stoic philosophers, especially Zeno of Citium (the founder of the school), Chrysippus [his most influential disciple], Panaetius of Rhodes (who introduced Stoicism into Rome), Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. The truths of Stoicism were perhaps best set forth by Epictetus, who in the first century A.D. wrote in the Enchiridion: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.” Shakespeare, many centuries later, rephrased this thought in Hamlet: “There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

 

Unlike other mental, emotional, and behavioral health modalities, REBT doesn’t aim to merely help a person feel better. Rather, one of the ultimate objectives of this practice is to help individuals get better.

 

In order to achieve this aim, an individual may need to change one’s personal philosophy—an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs. This is because irrational beliefs which people often use aren’t based in logic and reason.

 

For instance, when you experience an undesirable event and use demandingness, awfulizing, low frustration tolerance, or global evaluations as fundamental beliefs regarding the experience, you’ll likely disturb yourself into an unpleasant cognitive, emotive, bodily sensation, or behavioral disposition.

 

As an example, a person about whom you deeply care suddenly dies, you believe, “This is so unfair, because she shouldn’t have died at such a young age,” and as a result of this unhelpful assumption you disturb yourself into a miserable condition while contemplating whether or not to take your own life.

 

A philosophical alteration to your unhelpful philosophy is what REBT advocates. Therefore, REBT adapts one’s flawed philosophy with the practice of what is commonly understood as philosophy in general—discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology.

 

This is why Ellis drew inspiration from Stoic philosophy. Regarding this ancient philosophical endeavor, one source states:

 

Following Socrates and Aristotle, the Stoics were interested in eudaimonia – a life worth living or a flourishing life. They saw themselves as following Socratic ideals and where virtue was concerned struck a compromise between an Aristotelian concept of virtue that was too elitist and a Cynic concept of virtue that was extremely minimalist. This compromise took the four cardinal virtues from Socrates – wisdom, courage, temperance [or moderation], and justice – and while maintaining that these were the only true good and thus sufficient for eudaimonia, other externalities such as material comfort could rationally be preferred as long as they were not coveted.

 

Determining what does or doesn’t constitute a eudemonic existence is subjective. I could ask a thousand people and receive mixed responses. Think about what you consider to be a well-lived life. Does it involve happiness?

 

Regarding this matter, one source states, “Hedonic happiness is achieved through experiences of pleasure and enjoyment, while eudaimonic happiness is achieved through experiences of meaning and purpose.” I favor the latter while choosing not to pursue the former.

 

To expand upon this position, consider what I stated in a blogpost entitled Happiness Is a Trap:

 

For the record, I don’t think there’s anything bad, wrong, or otherwise with the pursuit of happiness. It may be a worthwhile endeavor for some people to continuously chase the proverbial carrot dangling from a string at the end of a stick.

 

Quite often, I find that rather than actually capturing that carrot, people upset themselves with their beliefs about happiness. In these instances, they wind up beating themselves with the stick and creating an outright unpleasant situation. They have the right to abuse themselves in such a way.

 

The practice of forming rigid expectations about happiness is one way people disturb themselves while ensuring that they don’t achieve eudaimonia (well-being). Furthermore, consider what I stated in a blog entry entitled Happiness Is a By-Product:

 

[O]ne of the goals of REBT is to promote psychological wellness rather than happiness. Wellness involves being content, which is merely the experience of satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.

 

As happiness is a fleeting by-product of pursuing one’s aims, I’ve witnessed people disturb themselves into dreadful moods by chasing after this ephemeral ambition. However, if one is open to a good enough standard, sustainable psychological well-being can be attained regardless of whether or not one achieves happiness or can sustain “good vibes.”

 

Just as Ellis incorporated into REBT wisdom of ancient Stoics, my approach to REBT is informed by historic popular culture lessons. Considering the pursuit of happiness, pleasure, and enjoyment, I think about the Walt Disney Company’s 1940 film Pinocchio.

 

In one scene, Pinocchio and his friend Lampwick visit Pleasure Island, which Lampwick describes as a “swell joint; no school, no cops, you can tear the join apart and nobody says a word – loaf around, plenty to eat, plenty to drink, and it’s all free!” However, there are real-world consequences to hedonism.

 

While at Pleasure Island, Pinocchio remarks, “Bein’ bad’s a lot of fun!” After he and Lampwick have their fill of criminal activity, eating, smoking, and amusement, they slowly begin turning into donkeys. In other words, they make asses of themselves.

 

This alludes to the Stoic virtue of temperance or moderation. An imbalance of idealistically hedonic pursuits and realistic duties in one’s life may seem alluring, though in Pinocchio’s case, he didn’t fare well and his behavior correlated with his father being placed in significant danger.

 

Regarding another Disney production, The Lion King (1994), Simba flees to an oasis while shirking personal responsibility and accountability following the death of his father, Mufasa. There, Simba unites with friends Timon and Pumbaa.

 

In perhaps one of the most misinterpreted Disney scenes – as I’ve found that many people value hedonic escape that is depicted in the film – Simba and his friends sing “Hakuna Matata,” described as meaning “no worries for the rest of your days.” However, the “problem-free philosophy” deprives Simba of life.

 

In the beginning of the scene, Simba is a tiny lion cub and at the conclusion of the song he’s a young adult-aged lion. Meanwhile, his homeland is in ruin. It takes the Stoic virtue of wisdom imparted by Rafiki in order for Simba to subsequently embrace Stoic virtues of courage and justice.

 

Whether associated with classic Disney movies or ancient philosophers, wisdom of Stoic virtues can significantly impact one’s life in modernity. Concerning the concepts which comprise eudaimonia, Frontiers states:

 

There is indeed a difference between happiness and fulfillment. The latter is long-lasting and comes from deriving a sense of wholeness, from perceiving congruence, and from recognizing value regarding one’s self, life, and impact.

 

Although it may be tempting to eat, drink, smoke, snort, poke, or spend until one depletes the brain’s reward system, fruits regarding the pursuit of happiness, pleasure, and enjoyment may not be as sustainable as a eudaimonic lifestyle. This is a lesson I learned in my youth though didn’t understand until adulthood.

 

As a child, I learned the story of King Solomon through biblical lessons. In 1 Kings 3:12-13, Solomon was said to have been given knowledge and wealth that no human before or after him would retain.

 

By 1 Kings 11:3, Solomon was said to have had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines. Fast-forward to Ecclesiastes 1:2 and Solomon declares, “Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

 

Similar to Pinocchio and Simba, Solomon realized that hedonic undertaking was empty and void of meaning. Even if you devalue knowledge of the Bible, you may appreciate lessons from classic Disney films.

 

Moreover, you may appreciate how Stoic virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance (moderation), and justice may be accepted into your life as a means of attaining fulfillment regarding your interests and goals. Concerning fulfillment, Frontiers further states:

 

What can support the endeavor to create a fulfilling existence? Certain attitudes toward life, such as performing meaningful activities, engaging in tasks in which one feels absorbed, or pursuing goals from which one derives a sense of achievement, have been shown to be conducive to experiencing a fulfilled life. Sensing one’s profession or an activity as a calling can also provide a strong sense of fulfillment.

 

Leading a contented and fulfilled life is the objective for the remainder of my existence. I’ve already achieved this goal and find that it’s relatively simple to maintain.

 

Not always was this the case, because the first half of my life was filled with chaos rather than happiness or fulfilment. It wasn’t until I began frequently practicing REBT – beyond mere understanding of and belief in the modality – that I was able to embrace Stoic virtues.

 

Nothing in my life is perfect, as I’ve always been, will always be, and remain a fallible human being. Nevertheless, through practice of REBT, I understand what Marcus Aurelius meant when stating, “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”

 

Would you like to know more about living an attainable and sustainable eudaimonic lifestyle rather than absurdly practicing a “problem-free philosophy”? If so, I’m here to help. If not, “Hakuna Matata,” I suppose.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


 

References:

 

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