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Hedonic Treadmill

What is Your Orientation to Life?

Research suggests we need a balance of eudaimonic and hedonic orientations

In recent years, psychologists have become interested in people’s orientations to life. This refers to the reasons behind what we do. One psychologist who has pioneered research into this topic is Veronika Huta at the University of Ottawa.

Huta says that there are two main orientations to life. First, there is the eudaimonically oriented person. Such a person values personal growth, seeks new challenges, strives for excellence in what they do and looks for meaningful purpose in their life. They set goals for themselves that are intrinsically valuable to them and part of their identity. Second, there is the hedonically oriented person who seeks pleasure, enjoyment, comfort or relaxation.

The eudaimonically oriented person and the hedonically oriented person have contrasting behaviours and experiences. The eudaimonic person is more likely to engage in activities such as volunteering, donating money and time to those less fortunate, and taking part in worthwhile political and charitable causes. They also tend more towards expressing gratitude, being mindful and taking part in challenging activities that demand they apply their skills and talents in such a way as to provide a sense of meaning and purpose, and they become deeply engaged in their work and leisure activities. The hedonic person likes going to parties, attending sporting events and concerts. They focus more on immediate pleasure.

Of course, in most cases, people’s lives contain a mixture of eudaimonic and hedonic orientations, although some are more weighted towards one than the other. It can be helpful to think about the balance of your own orientations. Are you more hedonically or eudaimonically orientated? Do you think you have the right balance of the two orientations in your life?

For many of us, we seek happiness through hedonic activity but the research seems to suggest that actually lasting happiness must also involve the eudaimonic orientation. Think about how you spend your time. Work out the balance for yourself between your time spent on hedonic versus eudaimonic activity. How can you introduce more of the eudaimonic orientation into your life?

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Huta, V. (2015), ‘Eudaimonia and hedonia: Their complementary functions in life and how they can be pursued in practice’, in S. Joseph (ed.), Positive Psychology in Practice: Promoting Human flourishing in Work,Health, Education and Everyday Life , 2nd edn. Hoboken: Wiley.

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