- On January 21, 2020
- Eudaimonic Well-Being, Happiness, Hedonic Well-Being, Mediated Technology, Positive Technologies
This post briefly discusses various frameworks, studies, and diverse factors for determining happiness from a collective array of research as well as the key differences between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness, including subjective well-being. Additionally, this post also highlights relevant examples and efforts of how aspects of happiness have been infused into mediated technologies experiences.
Keywords: happiness, positive psychology, hedonic and eudaimonic happiness, subjective well-being, technology, happiness, and technology
“There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path”
— Gautama Buddha, alive around 500 BC
This provocative quote epitomizes what is known about human happiness today; the idea that ‘happiness is the path’ is extremely relevant given the resources cited throughout this post and also underscores a growing belief:
The diverse levels, studies, and impacts of human happiness, as evidenced by the academic writings included in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (Lopez, Edwards, and Marques, 2016), and other scholarly texts from Fowler and Christakis (2008), Fredrickson (2001), Tamborini et. al. (2011), and Wirth, Hofer, and Schramm (2012), clearly offer a collective depth into the subject.
From these academic writings, one understands the following fact about happiness:
Instead, we must be open to the various frameworks available to glean a broader understanding of what human happiness is and how it impacts one’s well-being — a term Ryan & Deci (2001) define as one’s optimal psychological functioning.
History of subjective well-being research
For example, the early years of subjective well-being research boiled happiness down to single questions about people’s happiness, such as the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain (Lopez, Edwards, and Marques, 2016, p. 187).
Yet as research evolved, it was later determined that the absence of pain doesn’t necessarily equate to a corresponding increase in joy (p. 187). In other words, ridding someone of his or her sadness doesn’t mean the person will be happy or much happier.
As subjective well-being research matured, questions arose about the validity of self-reporting instruments, which were commonly used to measure happiness and well-being in past studies. After all, people might report they’re happy but not truly experience high-subjective well-being (Lopez, Edwards, and Marques, 2016, p. 188).
By the 1990s, the idea that multi-item life satisfaction, pleasant affect, and unpleasant affect scales formed “factors that were separable, as well as form other constructs such as self-esteem (p. 188)” was introduced by Lucas, Diener, and Suh (1996).
Such findings matured further in the 2000s and in recent years, it is understood there exist profound differences in what makes people happy (Lopez, Edwards, and Marques, 2016, p. 291) including:
- consistency in self-perception,
- interpersonally engaging emotions,
- interpersonal contexts,
- and cultural differences.
Hedonic and Eudaimonic happiness
Despite the evolution of study as it relates to better understanding human happiness, and amidst the research on subjective well-being, our literature broadly sheds light on two theoretical frameworks for defining happiness: hedonic well-being and eudaimonic well-being.
Hedonic well-being is felt whenever pleasant affect is accompanied by the short-term satisfaction derived from the fulfillment of needs; thus, hedonic well-being is outcome-oriented (Wirth, Hofer, and Schramm, 2012) and results from an action or experience.
In contrast, eudaimonic well-being is more of a way of life, where one pursues activities congruent with deeply held values (Waterman, 1993). In other words, eudaimonic well-being is more process rather than outcome-oriented and involves personal expressiveness, the actualization of human potentials, and activities that are congruent with deeply held values (Wirth, Hofer, and Schramm, 2012).
Well-being and happiness in the context of media technologies
One mainstream example is Facebook’s ubiquitous Like button feature, which allows users to give, share, and receive micro-bursts of social validation, fostering feelings of enjoyment and pleasure when Likes are received.
Software products, which allow team members to communicate, share documents, and access data, are another media technology showing much promise in terms of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. When designed with happiness in mind, such software products support happy, positive experiences rather than detract from them (Laib, Zeiner & Burmester, 2019).
Software that makes users feel good about interacting with it often includes features that foster a sense of happiness and well-being, including the ability for users to visibly thank and appreciate the other for a particular work or task. Feedback mechanisms allowing the prominent showcasing and sharing of thank yous and words of appreciation encourage users to want to succeed, which “fulfills our psychological need to feel competent (Laib, Zeiner & Burmester, 2019).” Moreover, comments and expressions of appreciation can also foster a sense of positivity and gratitude, which helps to build relationships.
Another aspect of software products that inspire positivity includes engagement features, which encourage users to focus, perform deep work, and work intensely until a solution is derived. Such capabilities inspire problem-solving and enhance creativity experiences. An example of such an engagement feature can be seen in prototyping tools that autosave a user’s work progress and allow for multiple versions to be easily accessed. This behind-the-scenes “security,” if you will, ensures users remain focused on their efforts (expanding creativity, making changes, etc.) without having to worry about different versions, overwriting previous work, or risk missing files. When users don’t have to worry about losing information, they are freer to instead take risks, explore, and push their creativity because they know any changes will not be irreversible (Laib, Zeiner & Burmester, 2019).
It’s not often we hear on the news about “technology positivity” unless the technology highlighted has some medical purpose ascribed to it. While the latter statement is a generality, the point is the public at large is far more apt to hear a negative, rather than positive, news angle wherever technology is a concern.
The story angle that seldom gets attention in such news reports, however, is that technology is just a tool, and its affects depend on how we use it (Deschene, n.d.). Author Amy Blankson (n.d.) extends this notion further, stating that technology is a means to an end — and we get to decide how that story ends (Blankson, n.d.).
Positive use of technology and happiness-infused technology design can boost the positivity in our brains, which “rewards” us by releasing bursts of dopamine. Those dopamine bursts, as a result, turn on our brain’s learning centers and make us able to see more possibilities in our environment (Blankson, n.d.).
Blankson, A. (n.d.). How technology can make us less or more happy. Delivering Happiness. https://blog.deliveringhappiness.com/does-technology-make-us-less-happy-or-more-happy.
Deschene, L. (n.d.). The technology of joy: tools for happiness. Tiny Budha. https://tinybuddha.com/blog/technology-joy-tools-happiness-interview-book-giveaway.
Fowler, J., & Christakis, N. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ Online First | British Medical Journal, 337(a2338), 109.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. Phil. Trans. Royal Society London, 359, 1367-1377.
Laib, M., Zeiner, K.M., & Burmester, M. (2019, July 1). What if work software were designed to make you happy? Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_if_work_software_were_designed_to_make_you_happy.
Lopez, S. J., Edwards, L. M., & Marques, S. C. (2016). The Oxford handbook of positive psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Lucas, R.E., Diener, E., & Suh, E. (1996). Discriminant validity of well-being measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 616-628.
Robinson, M.D., & Clore, G.L. (2002). Belief and feeling: evidence for an accessibility model of emotional self-report. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 934-960.
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, 141–160.
Schwarz, N., & Struck, F. (1999). Reports of subjective well-being: judgmental processes and their methodological implications. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 61-84). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Tamborini, R., Grizzard, M., David Bowman, N., Reinecke, L., Lewis, R. J., & Eden, A. (2011). Media enjoyment as need satisfaction: the contribution of hedonic and nonhedonic needs. Journal of Communication, 61(6), 1025-1042.
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.
Wirth, W., Hofer, M., & Schramm, H. (2012). Beyond pleasure: exploring the eudaimonic entertainment experience. Human Communication Research, 38(4), 406-428.