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  flourishing as fulfilling enjoyment

gary e. davis
September 23, 2022
Interest in modeling high quality of life is standardly traced back to Aristotle by inquirers wanting empirically evaluable traits, as well as by philosophers. In 2013, a leading researcher in this spirit, Alan S. Waterman, convened other leading researchers in his field to prospect The Best Within Us: positive psychology perspectives on eudaimonia.

His “Introduction” to that anthology seeks to provide a comprehensive overvew of the field, beyond mere synopsis of the upcoming chapters (which he does very briefly).

I’m going to think with and against his exemplary discussion, for the sake of gathering whatever set of themes are evinced by my dialogue with his text (part 1). Then, I’ll pull out most of my themes in order to make a synoptic narrative with them: part 2.

If a reader is mainly interested in my view, s/he can skip part 1 here, because part 2 isn’t dependent on part 1. But part 1 shows where immanently in my reading the various themes in part 2 were evinced, relative to Waterman’s overviews, which may be useful for understanding why I prospect the view that I do.

Eventually, I’ll discuss each chapter of the anthology, some soon, most later.

Thinking beyond the traditional hedonia / eudaimonia conundrum
of positive psychology
    The hedonia/eudaimonia conundrum of positive psychology is really about value theory: value-conceptually led life, and which values are best.
Waterman overviewing “hedonia as the pursuit of a life of pleasure”
The traditional interest in hedonia arises from a prevailing interest in eudaimonia which is decidely non-hedonistic; e.g., Aristotle [Waterman, 4-5]. The “pleasure” of happiness is regarded as merely somatic, rather than relative to a richer sense of pleasure: selfidentical fulfillingness whose enjoyment somatic pleasure serves.

But I would argue that even the traditional, split-off sense of happiness (merely somatic) has (when articulated) an implicit eudaimonic conception: beng “important” [4] satis-factions, where pleasure is not “cause[d]” by itself: “[T]he source of such experience” is apart from—but thereby concealed by—the split-off conception of eudaimonia.

The value of non-hedonic fulfillingness (eudaimonia) depends on a suppression of the hedonic whose actual source isn’t within itself, but is, arguably, eudaimonic in the first place.
lexical ‘happiness’
The lexicality of ’happiness’ is less ambiguous than psychologists make it be: It’s mainly: emotional well-being “ranging in value from mere contentment to deep and intense joy in living” (M-W Unabridged}, which corresponds to a hedonic sense of ‘happiness’. And here, there’s “a natural desire for its continuation” or for “relative permanence.” Such happiness is a satisfying homeostasis.

So, what about that “natural” desire? Isn’t that intimating what essentially belongs to one’s “nature,” which happens to involve wanting (not merely enjoying) permanence?

First use of ‘happiness’ pertained to prosperity (15th century, says M-W U.); then, further, modern meaning pertains to “aptness, felicity (def. 3), as well as pertaining specifically to “2 b: Aristotelianism : eudaemonia” [sic].

So, not only is traditional (lexical) “happiness” both hedonic and eudaimonic, but also apt, i.e., satisfying (hedonic), yet fulfilling in degree, which we associate with efficacy, prudence, and balance (very eudaimonic).

overviewing “eudaimonia as happiness”
Waterman [5] sees a bias for “subjectivity” as one trend of thinking about eudaimonia; but actually he’s finding a bias which serves his later focus on canonical senses of “well-being” as “subjective” [8-9], as if “social scientists…immediately [think] in terms of subjective experience” [5].

But that’s not what’s displayed by quoting “Norton (1976)” [I include Waterman’s in-line citation, which refers to his chapter bibliography, only to indicate clearly that I’m quoting him quoting someone else]: “…’being where one wants to be, doing what one wants to do’ (p. 216), where what is wanted is considered something worth doing’….” That involves fulfillment of purpose in accord with values (or value-based preferences), not merely “the feeling” of that, in an affective or emotional sense of ‘feeling’. (I understand feeling as a melding of emotion and value: feeling as affective valuing that motivates preference. Feeling is always hedonic and eudaimonic.)

So, Waterman counters his reductionist sense of Norton with an understanding of eudaimonic happiness that is quite congruent with his quote from Norton: “Eudaimonia includes a constellation of subjective experiences, including feelings of rightness and centeredness in one’s actions, identity, strength of purpose, and competence." That’s beyond his quote of Norton, but Norton-as-quoted isn’t contrary to that.

However, rightness (aptness?) and centeredness (self-efficacy?) is not primarily about feelings. It’s also about understandings. When “[Rollo] May (1969)…referred to the intensity…or eudaimonia as having ‘the power to take over the whole person’ (121),” May was expressing a sense of wholly flourishing (inspired by Existentialist thinking), which associated with authentic selfidentity, not subjective overwhelmingness or possession.

So, the rubric “subjective experience” [5] is not relevant, since Waterman’s sources aren’t about subjectivity at all. Of course, inquirers have given a lot of attention to “subjective well-being,”but that’s not evident in Waterman’s discussion here.

“eudaimonia as flourishing”
Waterman’s “finding” subjectivism in some notions of happiness leads to an initial sense of flourishing that is otherwise: “objective.” But that’s supplementing apparent mis-reading earlier with compensatory misreading now: “The alternative to a subjective definition of eudaimonia involves determining what objective qualities of human functioning make for a good life, a life well lived” [6]. So, interest in purposive action is now reduced to “functioning”?

But understanding a “[high] quality life” as “flourishing” [ibid.] isn’t a matter of object-ivity. Fulfilling enjoyment is a selfidentically valuative sense of being. An inquirer can identify “qualities” and criteria for assessing one’s assent to the presence of each quality, and aggregates of prevalence can be quantified. But flourishing itself isn’t a matter of being objective.

Waterman writes that “flourishing is based on a conception of human nature,” but that’s false. Flourishing expresses an actualized potential of our nature which can be concept-ualized, but flourishing itself isn’t based on a conception of itself—except in a sense of conceiving which brings into question what conceiving is, retrospectively, in human development, which is a matter of comprehending interests of inquiry. Theorists such as Martha Nussbaum, John McDowell, and Ruth Garrett Millikan understand conceptions to include individuated capability for comprehending.

So, it’s relevant that “the Aristotelian perspective on flourishing includes reason, contemplation, and virtue” [6], but to claim an objective sense of that presumes a consensus on the life-oriented value, as well as meaning, of each, let alone a criteriology of each that can be usefully quantified.

Indeed, “[p]hilosophers have debated whether the focus here should be on a generic consideration of human nature common to everyone... or an individualized agent-relative, self-directed nature specific to each person ...” [6]. Or better: How may it be—is (for flourishing life)—that general human potential just is that which can individuate singularly?

A developed genotype shows phenotypically as manifold instances of different develop-ment: differentiable leaves of the same tree, flowers or the same variety in a field, several robins, etc. Persons make identities (which don’t merely happen like the growth of flowers) which can be singular and even original.

“eudaimonia as self-realization”
Waterman now prospects “the elements eu (good or healthy) and daimon (true self). The daimon consists of those unique qualities that make each of us not just human, but also an individual different from all those around us” [6]. So, true self there is a dyad of general traits and differentiation from others. What happened to the interest in life-based identity, i.e., individuation (beyond individualization) of general traits which has its own interests regardless of relations (or lack of relations) with others? True self is not primarily basic individualization. Besides, degrees of relation with others is highly variable. I would argue that true self is very attuned to that variability and very comfortable managing that (family, friends, colleagues, neighborhood, civil strangers).

More relevant to true self is that “[t]he daimon refers to the potentialities of each person, the realization of which represents the greatest fulfillment in living of which each of us is capable” [6]. But isn’t true self about that realization (not the potentials as such), and so-called daimon is about that? True self is achieved. True self doesn’t “refer” to the potentialities.

Next, Waterman says that “[t]he daimon is an ideal, in the sense of being an excellence and a perfection toward which we can strive, and hence it can provide meaning and direction to our lives.” But isn’t an excellence an actualized ideal (not that the ideal itself is an excellence)? The ideal of excellence relative to some values or purposes may draw one into actualizing their life-orienting values and purposes (Purpose) well, which may be done excellently. But excellence as such isn’t the ideal; rather, values and purposes are idealized as excellently actualizable.

“David Norton (1976)” is confused (if not taken out of context by Waterman) in writing that “…’each person is obliged to know and live in truth to his daimon…’,” because really we may desiremay desire—to actualize true self—to live authentically—but “obliged” isn’t the apt notion.

Maybe the point is that intrinsic appeal of actualizing potential gains due prevalence if one is honest with oneself. Openness to intrinsic interest appeals for drawing oneself into—creates desire for—self-actualization, “…’thereby progressively actualizing an excellence that is his[—better: one’s own—] innately and potentially’…” [6]. Concurrently, Waterman notes that “the daimon is closely allied with the construct [better: notion or concept] of intrinsic motivation” [7]. But that’s an objectivist representation of what’s experienced as ownmost desire. And that is much less than what he’s earlier represented as not merely (in other words) an intrinsic interest (of which there are many). Ownmost desire expresses integral interest of Self (as I’ve put it) to actualize one’s potential excellently—notwithstanding that socialization very often inhibits that (through passive or disciplinary parenting; bad education; trauma).

At best, intrinsic desire to self-actualize is about the whole of one’s being: oneSelf. Waterman is mistaken by claiming otherwise: “In contrast to the concept of eudaimonia as flourishing, a broad array of qualities that constitute living well, the interpretation of eudaimonia as self-realization constitutes a more narrow objective definition of the term” [7]. So, what happened to the eu- above? He’s been discussing daimon without the eu- and now says that eudaimonia as self-realization is more narrow?

“eudaimonia as a normative concept”
The appeal of Self actualization is inegral (though I understand the building and broadening of self-enhancive interest differently than Waterman has so far portrayed that). The appeal is inspiring and leads to aspiring. It is valuable in a most-valuable way.

Inasmuch as orientation by such appeal prevails for preferences, then such value gains preferred authority for one’s life—life-oriental ValueV.

But ‘normative’ ordinarily pertains to interpersonal life, where regulation of action is to be compliant with a shared standard. Indeed, the origin of ‘norm’ arose from interest in there being objective standards for evaluating something reliably.

One might usefully say that fidelity to ValueV is “normative” for oneself, for one’s life, but there’s good reason to distinguish that from standardly normative issues—and thus, to stay with senses of ‘value’—because well-oriented interpersonal action (situational, ethical life) is essentially different from there being a well-oriented life.

So, it’s not the case, for me, that “philosophical considerations as to how individuals ought to live constitutes a normative question,” because “ought” is the wrong frame of mind for understanding the appeal of integral value. More caring is preferable to less caring because openness to the appeal prevails whenever given, not because it ought to prevail.

“For example,” Waterman misleadingly writes, “Aristotle’s analysis of eudaimonia—placing excellence and virtue at the center of a life well lived—constitutes a conceptual philosophical claim as to how a person ought to live” [7]. But really, the excellence (eu-) of virtue (daimona) appeals as the better way to live (relative to non-virtuous life and non-orientation to excellence) because look at the lives of those who are committed to excellence of virtue: They are most appealing: They prosper, teach, influence, and lead.

Waterman claims that “the merits of such claims”—such oughtness—“rest entirely [!] on the strength of the logical reasoning advanced to support them” [7]. Actually, it’s the integral appeal of the values which insightful rhetoric awakens that establishes the merits of the claims. Enablative teaching through communicative efficacy prevails in reasoning.

A better way of life proves itself (fulfills) in the resultant appeal of its excellence of virtue thanks to the efficacy of its means (orienting values, capabilities, goals). But having good means doesn’t make a better way consequentialist. Fulfilling enjoyment leads to desire for more fulfilling enjoyment. Ongoing generativity of one’s life shows through fulfilling purposes.

Waterman’s heart is in the right place, as they say, but he’s confused: To act, he says, “on the basis of the development and expression of [one’s] best potentials…is a teleological or consequentialist, rather than conceptual, claim” [8]. But value-based action is a concept-ual notion, and a teleological claim is conceptual; but the latter isn’t consequentialist. For example, loving to explore gives direction to one’s journey into mystery, but a vista is an unanticipated joy, which draws one into wanting to go beyond the next horizon. The generativity of feeling telos is enjoying the mystery of unknown consequences.

“It pertains to what is good for human beings rather than what is right” [8]. So, my distinguishing of value and norm is right. It is right that the generativity of a life be good, i.e., its virtue aspires to excellence of fulfilling enjoyment.

Waterman overviewing “positive psychological perspectives on the nature
of well-being”
    Authentic happiness results from a realized balance (fulfilling enjoyment) of appealing (idealized) prospects for Self actualization and realistic (pragmatic) interpersonal life.

But a vital difference exists between homeostatic “well-being” and being well: fulfilling enjoyment relative to life-span-oriented engagement.

Yet, Waterman’s overview of “positive psychological perspectives on the nature of well-being” can be used to show how a sense of being well is actually implicit for the rendering of being well (“well-being”).

Waterman overviewing “subjective well-being; well-being as happiness”
So-called SWB research has been an empiricist interest in positive emotion as indicator of “life satisfaction” which “predates…positive psychology [as such] by several decades” [8]. The approach doesn’t “explicitly take into account the nature of the sources [of]…life satisfaction” [9], but is associable with prospective modeling by influential others about emotional happiness as authentic being.

Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs prospects beyond its peak of mere “self-actual-ization”: prospecting “peak experiences,” which I know as a high kind of appeal (or desire) beyond self-actualization as “need”.

“Peak experiences,” according to Waterman, “are ones transcending our normal experiences of pleasure” [9]. That’s misleading. For Maslow, peaking beyond normal “self-actualization” is more than highly novel experiences. Peaking is part of an engagement in high individuation. But Waterman rightly notes that “[t]hey are the most memorable experiences of our lives,” which is far from relatively high novelty. ”We feel more whole, more integrated, more loving and accepting of others, most able to use our talents, in other words, most self-actualizing” [9].

Waterman associates to Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow experiences…present when we are intensely engaged [which] provides a balance of the challenges posed with the skills we bring to it” [9]. But that’s misleading. Flow is a state of immersion: More than, say, I am playing (where play is easily distinct from oneself playing), I am being played by mySelf.

That may seem odd, but it’s accurate: In flow, a tennis player (for example) is not there to herself; she’s tennis playing itSelf, just as a skilled pianist becomes “subject” to her playing the music, as if it flows through her, as if she is channeling the music. The answer to Yeats’s “How do we tell the dancer from the dance?” is that the dancing doesn’t tell.

So, though Waterman is right about there being a balance of challenge and skill, he’s confusing Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” (engagement which is not too easy to be boring, not too difficult to be frustrating) for the entrancement of being wholly engaged, which he also recognizes: “…we merge with the actions we are performing,” but that is more than “we feel we merge with…” [9]. We are the merging.

Very often, I am writing—and we may enter into an intimate affair reading itself: How do we tell the author from the [re]authoring? Who is the proper name known through the trace, the work?

You stand with the work of art, then ask the nearby artist about intent, and she merely smiles (or not).

overviewing “psychological well-being: well-being as flourishing”
Wholly flourishing isn’t going to be well determined mainly through empirical studies, because the latter depends on quantifiability, which tends to reduce the conception of being well (generativity) to a “healthy” homeostasis (thriving).

One influential group of researchers “presented a model of eudaimonic functioning… based on four motivational concepts,” which I’ll briefly frame: (a) the pursuit of intrinsic goals and values, that is, objectives valued for their own sake…” [10]. If Waterman is articulating that accurately, then the researchers are defining “intrinsic” as goal-oriented (for the sake of the goal), rather than being selfidentical (for the sake of “who I am”).

“(b) behavior that is self-directed and autonomous…,” rather than expressed intentions which are avowed as one’s own (i.e., selfidentical).

“(c) acting mindfully, that is, with full attention…,” which confuses the difference between holistic disposition (life-oriented, selfidentical purpose) and focus on situational goal-directedness (instrumental goal).

“(d) fulfilling what are seen”—by the person?—“as being universal, basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy,” which seems redundantly de-personalized, as if ownmost selfidentification feels a sense of universal nature just by being heartfully engaged.

In short, the researchers understand meaningful flourishing (fulfilling enjoyment) as merely healthy functioning.

Modestly conceived functionalism is also expressed by another set of researchers seeking to define “optimal mental health” [10], which psychotherapists aim to secure, bringing a client back to functional normalcy, not yet aiming to enable a high sense of individuation: “The six core dimensions [of psychological well being]…are (a) autonomy, (b) environ-
mental mastery, (c) personal growth,”—beyond maturing immaturities?—"(d) positive relations with others, (e) purpose in life, and (f) self-acceptance” [10].

But such important goals of baseline mental health are not yet about authentically flourishing, relative to one’s potentials and feasible aspirations.

Analogously, transitioning a student out of special educational services (remedial) to full “mainstreaming” is not yet attending to what draws talented students to exemplify actualization of human potential. “The best within us” is not about functional normalcy.
A philosophy of education is more than wanting to increase healthy functioning.

Yet, interest in normalizing processes is important, given the vastness of low literacy and emancipatory need. Scientific inquiry evolves: Understanding not only adaptively changes (which is the biologistic sense of “evolving”) by coming to appreciate the limits of its modeling; scientific inquiry advances its comprehension by modeling better, and advancing our conceptions of comprehensibility.

“eudaimonic well-being: well-being as self-realization”
Fulfilling enjoyment is not merely so-called “eudaimonic.” Hedonic appeal (traditionally split off from eudaimonic understanding) is integral to authentic happiness, being well (loving to be well), and self-actualization (in light of inspiration, enjoying engagement).

Waterman’s discussion has divided the holism of fulfilling enjoyment to align with distinguishable foci of earlier research, but we aren’t moving beyond interest in “happiness” by focusing on “well-being”; not moving beyond interest in being well by focusing on “self-realization.”

Waterman will address this (“Relationships Among the Three Conceptualizations”) after focusing on flourishing as a synergy of “self-realization” and “self-concordance.” But a holism of fulfilling enjoyment is already implicit to “the best within us,” not that a holism in concept results from a synthesis of modeling (which nonetheless usefully expresses perspectival pluralism in the scientificity of psychological inquiry). We are born wholly being.

Though Waterman earlier overviewed “psychological well-being” as flourishing, he now proffers a richer notion of flourishing. Flourishing is the master notion after all.

He discusses “self-realization” before discussing “self-concordance,” and sees the two as complements, but a better view of flourishing (concordant with contemporary research in positive psychology which I’ve discussed for many years and will do newly soon) is to understand self-realization as perspective on (yet, instrumental to) prevailing interest in self-concordance.

Self-concordance refers to the feelings of ownershp that people experience with respect to the goals they choose to pursue” [11]. Here, the hedonic appeal of selfidentity is focal, which is always the case when one considers what one’s life is about, which motivates commitments. It pertains to “the pursuit of goals consistent with a person’s authentic interests and core values.”
“In an upward spiral, the pursuit of self-concordance goals is associated with greater sustained effort; a greater likelihood of goal attainment; and, in turn, an increased sense of well-being. This increased well-being promotes still stronger motivation toward the attainment of self-concordant goals, enhancing further successes and still greater well-being” [11].
That is the “building and broadening” mirrorplay of self-enhancive interest which I discussed five years ago, in light of work by Robert J. Sternberg and other researchers (“primordial appeal of individuation,” last two paragraphs particularly).

“The theory of self-concordance also stresses the contributions of cross-situational self-consistency and authenticity to experiences of well-being” [11], “the extent to which core or true aspects of the self are finding expression in the goals selected and the activities a person performs” [12]. That is the ValueV of long-term cohering which is integral to life-span-oriented selfidentity; and which authenticity is all about.

“Self-realization” serves one’s intrinsic self-enhancive interest which becomes life oriental. “Self-realization involves a focus on four elements…” [11]. No; Self realization involves engagements which can be conceptualized as multi-modal.

“(a) the self-discovery of one’s aptitudes or latent talents.” A distinction between capacities here and capabilities is important, because inborn aptitudes or talents of oneSelf are only recognized (“self-discovery,” Waterman) as the individuating, increasing self-efficacy which is enjoyed. The Self/self difference is very real (even though that difference as such isn’t appreciable to oneself until mid-adolescence, I surmise).

“(b) dedicated effort in the development of those aptitudes into skills and expressed talents.” That is about capabilities relative to owning the appeal of increasing self-efficacy, which creates fidelity to one’s idealized promise.

“(c) choosing purposes in life through which those talents can be utilized.” Given recognized capabilities, one plays with life-span-oriented purposes before settling into a prevailing preference. I love that a leading textbook in anthropology is entitled The Human Career (which got its inspiration, I suspect, from an earlier anthropologist, 1990).

“(d) finding and using opportunities afforded within one’s [modes of life]…for meaningful purposes.” Yes, one makes a life. But it’s not better understood as “we experience subjective eudaimonia” [11]. We gain, by making one’s ownmost life, fulfilling enjoyment.

Waterman hasn’t outgrown his subjective-objective dualism, and he doesn’t realize that hedonic interest is integral to flourishing; a “eudaimonic” conception isn’t wholly adequate, because enjoyment expresses the somatic depth of oneSelf being well. “Self-realization and self-concordance should be seen as objective components of positive psychological functioning” [12] for quantifiable inquiry, but not for a living “sense of flourishing.” Comprehending the living of a life—which was originally the aim of existential phenomenology, and is integral to literary art—is always singular. The “presence” [12] of flourishing isn’t basically “the subjective component…of eudaimonia (as happiness) [which is about] feelings of personal expressiveness…when engaged…” [12]. The enjoyment is Selfidentical, articulating the drawn selfidenticality of oneSelf as appealing engagement in one’s world—as being in one’s world.

“relationships among the three conceptualizations of well-being”
Now-elderly Waterman was initially a clinical psychologist, which usually pertains to therapeutic practices oriented by modest goals of normal mental health and coping. But need for empirical confidence about one’s categorial understanding is as old as psychoanalysis (which, by the way, can be empirically studied).

So, it’s useful that he is empirically oriented and seeks empirical credibility for the plurality of models which seek to enhance baseline mental health into a richer engage-ment with one’s life, wholly appreciated. But “[w]hereas the strength of correlations [between the models discussed] is consistent with the hypothesized linkages[, which were earlier sketched], they are not of such magnitude as to indicate that they are a single, unified construct” [13].

That’s unsurprising, given the singularity of any living instance of correlativity in a well-cohering life. Also, relying on a sample population of college students (that ever-available resource for psychological researchers) is contrary to the post-adolescent character of fulfilling enjoyment, which is usually relative to established adulthood.

My interst is beyond that: prospecting highly talented individuation which is the normal focus of research on creativity and life-span-oriented modeling.

But I agree that “there are excellent theoretical grounds for expecting that measures of [the three models] should be strongly positively correlated” [12]. But Waterman hasn’t found those grounds; and his set of researchers won’t find those grounds, in terms that are readily suitable for empiricist modeling.


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