Flourishing and Eudaimonic Well-Being
The authors in this entry discuss flourishing and eudaimonic well-being in the context of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of good health and well-being which are set to be achieved by 2030. Firstly, an outline of the SDGs is presented, followed by a brief overview of contemporary perspectives on well-being. Thereafter, in order to clarify the notion of eudaimonic well-being, some of the debates on the definitions of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being are explored. Well-being is revealed to be an evolving multidimensional concept that is accepting of multiple perspectives. The authors then discuss traditional and emerging literature that explores the applicability of eudaimonic well-being and flourishing as it pertains to sustaining the holistic health of global human populations. The significance of contemporary scholarly engagement with flourishing and eudaimonic well-being, with multilayered, interdisciplinary approaches, is recognized as imperative for the SDGs. Emerging perspectives recognize the value of nature-human connection for a more profound understanding of human flourishing in contemporary times, while still remaining responsive to population diversities and intercultural understandings. Effectively managing nature-human connection is shown to be sustainable, holistic, universally applicable, and essential for the health of both humans and the planet.
An Outline of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030
In 2012, the United Nations (UN) formally recognized problems associated with continuing industrialization and called for sustainable approaches to address the situation. In 2015 the UN General Assembly approved the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The approval brought the 17 universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into force in January 2016. The decision articulated the need to engage with sustainable development for a better future for both people and the planet. The SDGs are justifiably linked with factors that combine to improve the quality of life while highlighting the pressing urgency to respond to global inequalities in accessing resources, education, health, and employment. The SDGs feature the desire to end global poverty and hunger, increase equity in and quality of education, provide adequate employment opportunities (e.g., the inclusion of migrants), improve health, work on sustainable urban places, protect and conserve natural resources, and address climate change. The global agenda sets out to achieve all 17 SDGs through a collective approach that requires action and a concerted effort from all countries by 2030.
Prominently, the third SDG of “Good Health and Well-Being” outlines the intent to work toward the provision of healthy lives and the promotion of well-being for all, irrespective of characteristics such as age, gender, race, and contexts such as financial, social, and educational (WHO 2018a). The Health target 3.4 of the third SDG stresses the place of well-being in sustainable development and the aim to “reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.” The Agenda frames health and well-being as both outcomes and foundations and connects them with the SDG dimensions of economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection (WHO 2017a). Achieving expected health and well-being outcomes is fundamental to realizing the aims outlined for these dimensions.
Definition of Health
Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Although the absence of disease or an infirmity in human body is typically understood as a reflection of the status of health, it is more than that. According to WHO (2018b), many determinants such as an individual’s lifestyle, financial and social status, level of education, access to health services and facilities, access to nutrition, genetic makeup, and community life influence a person’s state of health. Understanding health with these determinants can help predict health status as measured against parameters and also compared and contrasted across populations. Specific interventions can change individual and community health from bad to good. This is directly linked with SDG 3.4 which makes explicit the aim to reduce premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs caused 37% deaths in low-income countries in 2015, up from 23% in 2000 (WHO 2017b). NCDs are generally considered to be chronic diseases of long duration such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, and diabetes that may be caused by a combination of physiological, genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors. These four groups of diseases historically linked to affluence are now remarkably on the rise in low- and middle-income countries. More than three quarters of global NCD deaths (31 out of 40 million) occur in low- and middle-income countries. Each year 15 million people between the ages of 30 and 69 years die from NCDs, equating to 80% of premature deaths (WHO 2017c). Lifestyle, habits, nutrition, and diet seem to be the primary reasons for increasing the risk of death from NCDs. Promotion of well-being is crucial to the prevention of noncommunicable diseases and sustained global health.
Understanding Well-Being: Multiple Definitions
Well-being is a complex construct rooted in health, philosophy, and psychology practices. Generic and popular terms and metaphors such as positive health, holistic, wellness, quality of life, living well, and balanced lifestyle have been used to refer to well-being. These terms have been discussed at various levels including individual, community and society. Well-being is understood to be correlated with social, physical, and mental aspects of life. Physical well-being usually implies a disease-free body and good physical fitness. Social well-being is related to the individual’s active involvement in their family and community life. Mental well-being is generally linked to cognitive, behavioral and emotional responses, and often referred to as part of mental health. Accordingly, the World Health Organization (WHO 2018c) statement considers mental health to be “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” The multidimensional nature of well-being combined with cultural, individual, and societal differences and influences has meant that definitions of well-being are continually in flux (Elliot 2016; Newton 2007). Nevertheless, the global engagement with the notion of human well-being is ever increasing. In turn, this has facilitated an enhanced appreciation of a broader set of parameters and perspectives to better serve inclusivity in global populations.
To be well has many applied meanings, interpretations, and approaches. From an individual perspective, the journey to good well-being has been linked to the positive enhancement of multiple interacting domains, such as physical, social, financial, psychological mental, emotional, spiritual and environmental. Each domain has its own set of terms and metaphors that have been used to deconstruct the concept of well-being; and, improvements in one domain can influence all other domains (Mental Health Commission of NSW 2017). Good well-being is effected by a number of determinants such as individual lifestyle, financial stability, social inclusion, and a healthy environment which positively act on the quality of an individual’s life and an individual’s everyday lived experience.
Well-being is related to material and social attributes of provisions, services, and facilities such as education, health, and employment (Newton 2007). Broadly, the current approach emphasizes that good well-being is linked to being happy, feeling good, having purpose and meaning in life, and functioning well (Anand 2016; Beaglehole and Bonita 2015; Diener and Chan 2011). Although well-being is often spoken about as individual-specific linked to personal health and life experiences (Joshanloo and Jarden 2016), in recent years there has been a realization of well-being’s interrelatedness with community life. Relationships and nurturance play key roles in the well-being of an individual and their community as well (Mental Health Commission of NSW 2017). How a society perceives and defines well-being influences all human activities, present and future.
Well-being research most often focuses on the process and outcomes of personal life choices (Huta 2015). Dodge et al. (2012) investigated the challenges involved in developing an appropriate definition of well-being and recognized the importance of a multidisciplinary approach. Rather than critiquing dimensions of well-being, Dodge and colleagues examined three specific definitions, (1) the dynamic equilibrium theory of well-being proposed by Headey and Wearing (1989), (2) the effect of life challenges on homeostasis (Cummins 2010), and (3) the lifespan model of development (Hendry and Kloep 2002). Combining these three conceptual definitions, Dodge and colleagues offered a new definition of good well-being: “… stable well-being is when individuals have the psychological, social and physical resources they need to meet a particular psychological, social and/or physical challenge” (2012, p. 230). However, Keyes and Annas (2009, p. 199) noted that “feeling good about life and functioning in life are related but distinct issues.” Perhaps, an overall understanding of well-being is more easily reached through an appreciation of the interrelatedness of the well-being domains, terms, and metaphors that have different connotations in different contexts (Mental Health Commission of NSW 2017).
For the most part, research on well-being has focused on two interrelated notions – hedonistic well-being and eudaimonic well-being. To fully appreciate the eudaimonic well-being notion, it is important to differentiate it from hedonic well-being. Hedonic well-being is often associated with instant gratification but is sometimes more formally considered to be about “more positive affect, less negative affect and greater life satisfaction” (Ryan and Deci 2001, p. 161). Hedonic well-being is a subjective experience and about enhancing pleasure and avoiding pain. Eudaimonic well-being describes a more profound state of positive psychology where individuals are moving toward becoming fully functioning. Eudaimonic well-being is different to hedonic well-being as it emphasizes long-term well-being and focuses on meaning, self-realization (Waterman 2008), and vitality (Ryan and Deci 2001). Researchers, debating the two conceptual notions, have compared and contrasted them philosophically, psychologically, and experimentally (see Biswas-Diener et al. 2009; Disabato et al. 2016; Goodman et al. 2017; Huta 2015). Some tend to approach hedonism not as a singular opposite of eudaimonism but as an option within eudaimonism (Keyes and Annas 2009). However, most agree that there is a distinction between the hedonic and eudaimonic concepts, the individual and collective meaning of well-being, the intercultural diversities in the interpretation of what it means to be happy, and the understanding of meaningfulness (Disabato et al. 2016; Joshanloo and Jarden 2016; Mathews 2012). Despite the divisions and challenges in defining well-being (Dodge et al. 2012), there seems to be agreement that well-being is embedded in both hedonic and eudaimonic approaches. It is a multidimensional construct. For the purpose of this entry, the next section outlines current and emerging perspectives on eudaimonic well-being.
Defining Eudaimonic Well-Being with Cultural Diversities
Researchers often quote Aristotle as the principal philosopher concerned with the notion of eudaimonia – living one’s life well. Although eudaimonia traditionally means happiness, Aristotle conceptualized an understanding that embraced virtues and encouraged an attitude of living the true self with contemplation (Deci and Ryan 2008). For Waterman (2008, p. 236), this suggested a focus on “the subjective experiences that typically accompany efforts at self-realization, including the sense that one is acting in such a way that one is truly being oneself.” The processes of fostering the true self equate to living well. Eudaimonic well-being is typically associated with the dynamic process of movement and progress toward realizing the true self. Deci and Ryan (2008) noted that eudaimonic well-being describes a process of “living well or actualizing one’s human potentials” (p. 2) and that “the eudaimonic approach ascribes content to human nature and works to uncover that content and to understand the conditions that facilitate versus diminish it” (p. 3). Efforts toward realizing true self are typically being human.
Ryff’s (1989) eudaimonic approach offered six psychological components for well-being: autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships, purpose of life, self-acceptance, and environmental mastery. This model has its roots in positive psychology and is thought to influence an individual’s overall long-term health and well-being. The model proposes that each person requires independence in their personal development in order to connect with their own lived world and be aware of how they live their life. The six components of psychological well-being relate to an individual’s intrapersonal life and their capacity to build effective relationships with others and lead an active community life.
Seligman’s (2011) PERMA theory, another approach to eudaimonic well-being, includes five elements: positive emotion, engagement or flow, positive relationships, meaning or purpose, and achievement. Ryan and Deci (2001) argued that three distinctive psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and relatedness – act together in eudaimonic well-being. Keyes (1998) offered a social well-being perspective to the eudaimonic approach. Keyes’ social well-being included five elements: social acceptance, social integration, social contribution, social coherence, and social actualization. As a group, they are thought to be indicative of interpersonal relationships, an individual’s personal and collective location within their community and how well each individual functions as a social being. Together, the PERMA, psychological well-being (PWB), and social well-being (SWB) approaches strengthen the notion that eudaimonic well-being is a distinctive concept that facilitates a better elucidation of a fully integrated human life experiences. Personal growth that encourages self-esteem, resilience, and self-awareness enhances eudaimonic well-being and formulates an integrated understanding of positive human well-being.
This entry is set in the context of SDGs of good health and well-being. As such, an integrated understanding is essential to promote higher levels of well-being in each domain that act together to lower the risks of noncommunicable diseases and promote better opportunities to fully realize human potential. From this perspective, the eudaimonic construct includes living well with feelings of happiness, pleasure, and a realization of meaning and fulfilment (Deci and Ryan 2008). Eudaimonic well-being involves a conscious, virtuous process of “moving toward” a better realization of potential. In this state of mind, the individual is continually contemplating decisions, actions, and behaviors, learning from them as part of a deliberate reflexive practice toward self-realization and fulfilment.
However, eudaimonic well-being may have different connotations for different populations depending on cultural identities, beliefs, and practices. For example, health and well-being cannot be separated from connection to land, place identity and community for Australian Aboriginal peoples. Their well-being is also linked to harmonized interrelationships encompassing all domains (Mental Health Commission of NSW 2017). Therefore, the measurement of eudaimonic well-being per se is not uniform or straightforward. For example, in recent years Bhutan, a Himalayan country, has attracted much global attention as the model of a happy nation. Beaglehole and Bonita (2015) note that Bhutan’s measurement of Gross National Happiness is based on a philosophy which reminds the rest of world that human well-being is more than a reflection of the measurement of national per capita income. Well-being is built on good governance, sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. Bhutanese people’s happiness is said to be founded upon Buddhist principles of non-violence, tolerance, compassion, and peace. Happiness is both a personal and collective endeavor. This construct stands apart from subjective and psychological well-being notions as happiness is deeply embedded within the collective consciousness of the community (Mathews 2012). It is an experience that may perhaps be captured only roughly through scientific modelling and measurement tools because happiness is rooted in inter-generational continuity of values and principles that are deemed to be virtues.
This perspective on well-being is reflected in many wisdom traditions which provide meta-narratives and life stories to exemplify human consciousness and self-actualization. Examples include the Dharma concept in Hinduism (living a virtuous life with universal values of good), the Sufi way of life (being one with the universe), the stoic idea of oikeiōsis referring to the process of human attunement to the intention of the universe (Nussbaum 2009), and the Buddhist tradition of mind awakening. Notably, most wisdom traditions examine nature-human connection and clearly place humans as part of the universe (Fabjanski and Brymer 2017; Gratani et al. 2016). The conscious awareness of this connection combined with mindful engagement with the world, and actively nurturing others may strongly influence eudaimonic well-being. This may predicate human flourishing.
Flourishing: An Interdisciplinary Approach
Flourishing, as a definition, describes the process of being healthy and blossoming as human beings. Aristotle noted that human beings strove hard to achieve life satisfaction through the realization of their potential (Ryan and Deci 2001). Understanding how to foster flourishing is important in the context of achieving SDGs across global populations which are characterized by environmental, sociocultural, economic, political, and spiritual diversities. Researchers from psychology and sociology have grappled with how to define flourishing as well as develop theoretical frameworks and measurement tools for flourishing in a manner that is applicable across all human societies (Hone et al. 2014; Newton 2007). In that process some have offered many theoretical perspectives (Seligman 2011; Henderson and Knight 2012; Keyes and Annas 2009). Research studies conducted with cross-cultural population samples have measured and demonstrated the significance of combining both the hedonic and eudaimonic well-being domains as a means to foster flourishing (Biswas-Diener et al. 2009; Khaw and Kern 2015; Schotanus-Dijkstra et al. 2016; Tong and Wang 2017). Individual-oriented notions such as self-esteem may be a valid variable to test among the Western population samples, but they may not fit cultures that are more likely to emphasize collective approaches (Ryan and Deci 2001). The case of Bhutan being termed as a happy nation serves as a good example here.
Cultural context influences interpretations of flourishing. For example, Khaw and Kern (2015) concluded that Malaysians differ from many Western populations because health and spirituality are combined in their perception of flourishing. They suggested that culture-based modifications are required when working to enhance flourishing across different cultures. Schotanus-Dijkstra et al. (2016) determined that human flourishing constitutes high levels of both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being that could be present in all populations. Researchers measuring flourishing across different populations, for example, in the Netherlands (Schotanus-Dijkstra et al. 2016) and in China (Tong and Wang 2017), found varied degrees of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in their participants. Interestingly, gender and social status were prominent influential variables on flourishing in the Chinese population sample.
Contemporary research studies are increasingly exploring the measurement of human flourishing from alternative theoretical contexts. For example, VanderWeelea (2017) took a public health perspective and argued that a definition of human flourishing should include all the psychological and social aspects and virtues of well-being. However, it would be potentially limited if it lacked an understanding of what flourishing means to an individual, community, or society where a normalized mechanism of measurement may not be applicable for comparative outcomes. Four pathways to flourishing were offered: family, work, education, and religious community. VanderWeelea presented these pathways as important and common but not exhaustive. Accordingly, human flourishing will be substantial if these four pathways are supported, and communities actively engage and participate.
Anand (2016) discussed a multidimensional framework to measure and promote flourishing which emphasizes access to resources and opportunities (perspectives from economics and philosophy fields) combined with social progress. Going beyond the pathways of family, work, education, and religion, Anand highlighted the need to enable an individual’s capacities to utilize opportunities toward realizing their potential. It should be noted here that most realms of human life, such as education, health, employment, housing, leisure and recreation, family, and community, have always featured as indicators of human well-being. A deeper and fuller appreciation of flourishing and what it means at individual, community, and societal levels is challenging. Examples such as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index present alternative contemporary perspectives. As pointed out elsewhere in this entry, individual differences, diversities, and cross-cultural perspectives are driving contemporary approaches to understanding human flourishing among global populations.
Promoting Flourishing: Embedding Interdisciplinary Perspectives
This entry is concerned with the exploration of different theoretical perspectives on eudaimonic well-being and flourishing. The authors have emphasized an interdisciplinary approach that includes philosophical, psychological, and sociological insights. The SDGs aim to address the current status of global inequalities in education, health, employment, housing, and nutrition. Differences in value frameworks, perceptions of what constitutes the qualify of life, and the realization of human capabilities influence human potential to flourish. It is essential to develop a good understanding of how flourishing can be promoted. The WHO (2018c) standpoint argues that positive mental health is enhanced when every individual is able to realize their potential, possesses better resilience, and is able to express their capabilities without barriers. Strengthening governance, institutions, and systems is seen as leading to functional human capabilities which in turn will promote flourishing.
Nussbaum and Sen (1993) offer a universal human capability framework combining research evidence from human capital theory and the philosophical notions of human potential. They argue that every human must be able to and should realize their capabilities. If that is achieved, every human will have complete physical, mental, and social well-being, leading to human flourishing (Chawla 2015). Sen (1999) has also argued that living with agency (personal choices, decisions, and conscious actions), with respect to education, economic stability, and social inclusion, is the principal means of development. Societies progress when people have uninhibited opportunities to exercise their agency to realize human capabilities. Freedom to exercise agency complements autonomy and self-determination, the two concepts quite significant in flourishing. As Chawla (2015, p. 434) observes, a relatively high number of people (in billions) are living in developing countries where “conditions that enable citizens to realise their full range of capabilities” are not adequately supported. From this human capabilities perspective, governments are required to make urgent concerted efforts toward investing in health and well-being of their citizens if billions of people are to move toward flourishing. Anand’s (2016) analysis also affirms the importance of enabling conditions and processes for enhancing citizens’ quality of life in a manner that influences flourishing.
Effective public policies are useful in the promotion of health if all stakeholders are active participants in the process. Buse and Hawkes (2015) argue that implementation of the health SDG is possible only if steps are initiated to (1) overcome challenges pertaining to effective leadership of structural drivers the health, (2) focus on locally led approaches to prevent and tackle commercial determinants of ill-health, and (3) integrate rights-based approaches and an enhanced civic engagement to ensure accountability. Similarly, VanderWeelea (2017) opines that an efficient and effective government, a well-functioning financial system, absence of corruption, and civic stability are important to support the promotion of individual flourishing. Agarwal (2008) investigated the conditions of participatory exclusions in India, the largest democracy in the world, and revealed women’s restricted access to resources and the failure of the State to create equal opportunities. Global inequalities impact heavily on attempts to achieve global good health and well-being, a priority SDG. Besides improving the economic conditions and social progress, other alternatives to flourishing involving all populations must be studied. An important consideration is the connection between humans and the planet.
Cross-cultural perspectives view human connection with the natural environment as essential for flourishing (Beaglehole and Bonita 2015; Gratani et al. 2016; Inoue and Moreira 2016). In recent years this alternative perspective, along with others such as personal growth, social relationships, and economic stability, has started to emerge strongly in contemporary Western science (Newton 2007). Besides good governance, effective policies, and the implementation of good practices for sustainability, human flourishing can be improved and promoted better if nature-human interaction is strengthened through simple and concrete individual and community actions (Brymer et al. 2010). Connection with the natural world is currently heralded as the new path to eudaimonic well-being and flourishing, moving beyond psychological, sociological, and economics approaches.
Flourishing and Benefits of Nature-Human Interaction
An emerging area in research investigating the role of the natural environment in sustainable human health and well-being has justifiably affirmed positive outcomes from effective interactions with nature for all age groups (Brymer et al. 2014; Lawton et al. 2017; Mitchell and Popham 2008; Newton 2007; Sharma-Brymer and Bland 2016). Research on the benefits of interacting with the natural world has found improvements in physical, mental, and psychological health and well-being in children, elderly adults, and youth at risk (Gill 2014; Ottosson and Grahn 2005; Roe and Aspinall 2011; Ungar et al. 2005). Interventions such as gardening, horticultural therapy, outdoor and adventure education, and nature-based activities in school curriculum have proven benefits for enhancing health and well-being (Capaldi et al. 2014; Sharma-Brymer et al. 2015; Sharma-Brymer and Bland 2016). Activities such as Forest Schools in the UK have been shown to bring positive well-being for diverse populations such as young children and refugees (O’Brien 2009; SBASSP 2018). Enhancing the nature-human relationship may bring profound results for the achievement of SDGs for both social inclusion and economic progress. Such a relationship is readily available to embrace as an intervention to billions of people across the globe to maintain good health and well-being. Humans interacting with nature – from forests to urban green spaces – could arguably lead to a better appreciation of the natural environment. It could lead to changes in attitudes and behaviors toward valuing nature because it provides physical, social, and psychological well-being benefits.
Physical activity in green space improves human health and well-being across all ages, and socioeconomic and ethnic groups possibly resulting in reduced healthcare costs. Health practitioners and pediatricians are beginning to prescribe nature walks for children and their families to prevent obesity and diabetes (Gregoire 2015; Grossman 2011). Engaging with natural spaces (parks, woods, bushland, backyards, gardens) for any type of physical activity reduces the incidences of noncommunicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and CVD, promotes social relationships, and sustains confidence, calmness, resilience, and self-awareness (Maas et al. 2008). Time in nature has also been shown to encourage a nurturing attitude in communities and associated values of cooperation, collaboration, dialogue, and respectful engagement (Capaldi et al. 2014; Gratani et al. 2016). Being outdoors and interacting with the natural environment as individuals or as groups is a practical way to improve and enhance flourishing. Changes in behavior stemming from being one with the natural world impact positively upon the development of virtues that may reduce social and economic inequalities, improve inclusion, and sustain meaningful relationships.
Indigenous cultures live in relation to nature, interconnected with the systems and life processes of the natural environment, as a fundamental part of their ways of life. Their value systems were not separate from how they regarded themselves as part of nature (Gratani et al. 2016; Inoue and Moreira 2016). Indigenous knowledge and perspectives suggest a strong belief that the natural world has its own way of being sustainable and humans must respect that. Kreutz (2015) has reported that despite the presence of modern negative influences in their life, Australian Aboriginal children still experience similar environmental congruence. Wisdom traditions also promote messages that reinforce nonmaterialistic attitudes and simplicity in economic growth. Attitudes and beliefs such as these support human agency and self-determination. Furthermore, they also promote high self-esteem, contentment, and happiness with cooperation and acceptance. These universal virtues, values, and human qualities represent eudaimonia and flourishing. Good governance and good practices in a civil society need to incorporate systems and processes that reflect the foundations of flourishing. The desire for a better future for humans and the planet is fundamental to the SDGs. Designing opportunities for humans to effectively engage with an enriching natural environment, not destroyed by pollution and global warming, underpins planet and human well-being and flourishing. Effectively connecting people with nature is therefore essential for the realization of the SDGs. In this context, insights from interdisciplinary studies and effective collaborations between various stakeholders will better promote human flourishing.
Subjective and psychological factors fostering well-being and flourishing are related to economics, social relations, and the state of the physical environment. In essence, well-being and flourishing are multidimensional, interdependent, relational, and ecological concepts that are sustainably enhanced by paying attention to the person and the social and physical environment. While focusing on the individual and social environment has major impacts, both flourishing and well-being can only truly be developed through enhancing relationships with an enriching physical environment. For the most part, this turns out to be a natural environment, rich in biodiversity. Reciprocally, a deeper connection with nature results in the protection and conservation of the natural world for a cooperative and collaborative human engagement. Connecting with nature is a process of emancipation which facilitates the practice of values such as simplicity and humility. The SDGs reflect the need and hope for every human to achieve flourishing in everyday life.
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