“I just want to be happy. Like, live a good life, you know?”
When we hear someone say this, we get the gist of what they mean. And yet, when we zoom in, things get complicated. We know what thing they’re talking about, but we don’t know what that thing is.
Throughout this site, there is every manner of digging deep into ‘the good life.’
Since there is variation between individual dictionaries, as well as academic theories/camps, it is important to offer how these words are being utilized throughout this site.
So, this page presents a few of the most central and important terms, defining how we are using them.
The definitions below are specific, but not detailed. To explore the concepts and their many moving parts further, follow the links throughout the page and enjoy reading through the many subjects found throughout the site.
For a more academic lens—including many more terms and their specific usage and history—check out our Positive Psychology page.
The Big Picture
The following terms have the widest scope, and are essentially synonymous. We use these words to generalize the biggest, most inclusive idea—the focus of positive psychology and this site—including all of its subjective and objective elements.
- “Happiness” – The frequent colloquial use of the word “happiness.” We find that this word is a broken concept in the world. We use the word to describe something bigger than the word’s etymological roots. Therefore, when you see “happiness” (in quotes) used throughout the site—like the title of our section about this widest subject—it refers to general well-being.
When people refer to ‘the pursuit of “happiness,”‘ or a “happy” life, this is the big picture they’re talking about. It is overall well-being and anything/everything therein.
- Well-Being – Same as above. “Happiness.” The subject of positive psychology, referring to any and all parts of a human’s positive experience, satisfaction, goodness, etc. You will find this term used frequently throughout the site, synonymously with ‘general well-being’ and ‘overall well-being.’
There are many models out there for what composes human well-being. We model it as composed of 4 essential elements.
The Overview of Well-Being
- Happiness – Without quotes, this refers to positive emotions (positive affect). This “pleasant and contented mental state” follows the etymology of the word more closely, which is rooted in luck and good fortune. This limited origin is one reason for its confusion with the wider concept of well-being, colloquially.
We highlight the distinction of Happiness from Joy, as defined below. See the Happiness vs. Joy page for more.
- Hedonic well-being / Hedonia – Synonymous with Happiness, this also refers strictly to positive feelings—the experience of pleasure, enjoyment, comfort, absence of distress.
Hedonic well-being does not refer to the entirety of the feeling of, say, feeling a job well done or a mother embracing her child. Continue reading below.
- Eudaimonic Well-Being / Eudaimonia – The aspect of well-being associated with meaning, purpose, and perspective. Like hedonia, this is also a subjective aspect of well-being. But unlike hedonia, which refers only to feelings, eudaimonia can refer to experiences and/or a way of functioning and outlook on life as well.
Eudaimonic well-being can include positive feelings (part of happiness/hedonia), but excludes positive feelings that are not connected to meaningful experience. Like ‘thriving’ or ‘flourishing,’ it also contains growth, prosperity, and virtue.
- Joy – Almost synonymous with eudaimonic well-being, Joy refers more specifically to the experience of eudamonia. It is the state, feeling, and/or sense of well-being stemming from meaning, purpose, and perspective. Defining joy in this way gives us a very useful distinction from happiness, as explored on the Happiness vs. Joy page.
The Moving Parts
Looking a bit deeper, the following elements present how we model well-being in greater detail, and how—while still subjective and sometimes overlapping constructs—there is cohesion in how we define them. For more on our models of well-being, check out this page.
- Meaning – The subjective experience of mattering, having significance, coherence, value, and/or understanding. Meaning is, in a large part, the subject of this site, as we use it to describe the most essential element of well-being. Although the “meaning OF life” is a subject of much discussion, we focus on the psychological experience of meaning IN life, an important distinction in our models.
Following from our models, one may consider meaning thusly:
Meaning encompasses the engagement of the four cornerstones, which are strengthened/weakened by specific enablers, hindered by fear, enriched by depth of consideration, framed by/in human relations, and dynamically shaped through cultural/personal perspective and spiritual (or non) traditions/beliefs.
- Purpose – A direction in life that engages what is personally meaningful toward a goal that impacts the world beyond the self. Like meaning, there are many definitions of purpose out there. For our use, you can think of purpose like applied meaning, or meaning in action through oneself. See our extensive section on Purpose.
- Bliss – The experience and cohesion of Meaning, Purpose, and Joy within the context of work-life. Bliss is the ever-fluctuating concurrence of loving one’s work, getting paid for it, being good at it, and seeing that the world needs it. See the Bliss Map.
There are many more moving parts, like each of the 4 Elements of Well-Being, and for those we encourage you to read through the pages of the site, where you’ll not only find definitions and understanding, but research, resources, and exercises to implement in your own life.
What We Aim For
There is no single ‘right’ or ‘best’ way of living. Every person is different, and we are already in highly subjective territory.
That being said, modern psychology is objectively measuring subjective experience across the human species, and it is highlighting the common threads that weave together to form a typical ‘life well-lived.’ Our work is to model and present that knowledge, curating resources and offering practice along the way, so you may live your life optimally:
- Optimal Well-Being – The sustainable life and experience of joyfulness and fulfillment—similar to Eudaimonia, ‘thriving,’ or ‘flourishing’—resulting from
- An emphasized presence of Meaning, Purpose, and Perspective
- Empowerment by Enablers, the skills of life
- Frequent Bliss in our work
- Pleasure, flow, and engagement as pleasant, non-hindering, aspects
There Is Always More
There is always more to know. We hope that seeing these definitions and breakdowns inspires you to read further throughout the site. There is a wealth and diversity of knowledge through our various subjects, all centered around different aspects of optimizing your well-being.
If you’re interested in learning more conventions and terms, click the buttons below. You’ll find an overview of Positive Psychology—it’s research, growth, and central figures. The Models of “Happiness” page will present other constructs, terms, and definitions used in research, like Flourishing, Self-Actualization, Transcendance, and more.