Eudaemonia [you-day-mon-ay-ah], translated literally from Greek it roughly means something like “the possession of a god or deity,” but more accurately it is a term to describe what it means to truly find happiness. Eudaemonia is that which virtually every philosopher since Plato has been after; it is the ultimate quest of the human person, as one journeys through life seeking that which will fulfill all our needs and desires; in constitutional terms, it is “the pursuit of happiness.” Eudaemonia is not merely a good feeling or a passing moment of satisfaction, rather, it is true fulfillment.
As human beings we have a longing for the infinite (which is immensely ironic because everything on this earth is finite). This longing exists because it is in our very nature. Whether it be because of original sin and concupiscence, or simply because our souls are infinite: we have this thirst that cannot be quenched. We long for eudaemonia. So, how do we discover eudaemonia? How can we live eudaemonia?
As human beings, we are walking mysteries. We have a soul that is infinite and we have a body that is finite, yet their codependent relationship is necessary for our existence. That is, I would not exist (at least physically here on earth in space and time) without a body, nor would I exist at all without a soul. As humans, we are dependent upon both, there is no other way to exist. Viewing reality from this perspective, one can see a bit clearer the human disposition: our tendency for something more; something that is constantly fleeting us, and yet all around us at the same time; our yearning for the infinite; our desire for fulfillment; our quest for eudaemonia.
No matter how many philosophers debate the subject, or how variously different all of their conclusions are, there seems to be (at least in the Greco-roman tradition, and carried out in European thought up until this present day) only two possible answers to this quest for ultimate happiness. On the one hand, there is the view of the atheists, who claim that happiness resides in self-fulfillment: do the best you can, for the sake of being the best, and you will find happiness. On the other hand, there is the Christian claim that in God alone resides our fulfillment. The atheistic claim is anthrocentric, and even more specifically it is entirely selfish. In this view, happiness is dependent upon one’s success, and if one happens to be unsuccessful, one is doomed never to find happiness. The Christian claim is quite the opposite: it is theocentric, and calls one to live life in service of others; God does not call us to be successful, he calls us to be faithful.
In the Christian life, eudaemonia is not discovered through my own achievements. Rather, eudaemonia exists in the encounter with a person: Jesus of Nazareth. In the person of Jesus, we encounter all of the same longings and desires that we ourselves have, it’s in our human nature. But, we also encounter something much greater than our humanity, we encounter God himself in the flesh. The resurrection of Jesus was an event that changed the world as we know it forever, and when we encounter the risen lord, all of our preconceptions are thrown out the window. The risen lord comes to meet us where we are at, and in our faithfulness our expectations are entirely surpassed.
The Apostles didn’t have a clue what was going to happen to them in the days that followed the crucifixion. It seemed that all of their hopes were empty, and that Jesus was not the messiah after all. They went about their old ways and went fishing. They didn’t recognize him in the road to Emmaus, not even when he came in for dinner, it wasn’t until the breaking of the bread. And even then that was not enough for Thomas. But he meets our expectations and exceeds them: Thomas finds himself touching the wounds on Jesus’ glorified body; the Apostles evangelize and convert thousands of people at a time; and twelve uneducated men start a movement that would survive underground for three hundred years, and eventually become the largest religion, and longest standing human institution in history. God does not call us to be successful, he calls us to be faithful.
Eudaemonia is not achieved by success. They say that millionaires are among the most depressed people in our population. Eudaemonia is realized in our faithfulness. If I am honest with myself, every time the going gets tough, and I remain faithful, not only am I pleased with the outcome, but my expectations are exceeded in ways that I could not previously imagine. Things just seem to work out. Sin is real, and it has consequences. By the same token, faith is real, and it too has consequences. The power of prayer is beyond our understanding. But from my experience I can honestly say that I have never been disappointed when I put my trust entirely in God’s hands. Eudaemonia is detachment from self, and detachment from possessions. Nothing in this world will ultimately satisfy, nothing except for the love of God, which sustains us at every moment of every day, and will continue to for the rest of eternity.
So take a moment to reflect: what brings you happiness? How has serving others brought you a sense of fulfillment? Are you searching for eudaemonia and coming up empty? What are you looking for?