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Historically, there have been two main approaches to happiness: the Hedonic and Eudemonic traditions.

The hedonic approach defines happiness and the good life in terms of pleasure seeking and pain avoidance. The eudemonic tradition, in contrast, defines happiness and the good life in terms of achieving one’s full potential. The hedonic tradition can be traced back to Aristippus, and the eudemonic tradition to Aristotle: both Greek philosophers in the fourth century BC.

In the eudemonic tradition, it is acknowledged that, while the pursuit of pleasure may sometimes lead to wellbeing, this is not always the case, and in some instances, the pursuit of pleasure may prevent wellbeing. For example, over indulgence in alcohol, drugs and food may lead to addiction, cancer, heart disease. In contrast, the pursuit of virtue may sometimes lead to pleasure, but on other occasions may not. For example, acts of courage, such as saving a person from drowning, or working hard to achieve success at a job that benefits others may lead to pain rather than pleasure.

Wellbeing spans both of these traditions, by acknowledging that wellbeing involves positive emotions and absorption in engaging activities, as advocated by the hedonic approach. However, wellbeing also involves engagement in meaningful relationships and accomplishing meaningful achievements, which is consistent with the eudemonic tradition.

Increasingly, positive psychology has become concerned with investigating and facilitating the achievement of high levels of wellbeing – to the extent that I use the terms interchange-ably. Flourishing means living in the optimal range of human functioning. It means experiencing high levels of wellbeing on most of the five PERMA dimensions (Positive emotions, positive Engagement, positive Relationships, positive Meaning, positive Accomplishment – and the silent H for Health). So, flourishing is not just experiencing a high level of positive emotions. Flourishing may occur with moderate levels of positive emotions, but high levels of engagement in absorbing activities, relationships, meaningful activities, and achievement.

By definition, wellbeing has obvious benefits. For example, wellbeing, as per the PERMA dimensions, entails the experience of positive emotions such as joy and happiness, the experience of being absorbed in engaging skilled activities, the experience of satisfying relationships, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and pride arising from accomplishments.

And research in positive psychology shows that each of the five (six) elements of PERMA wellbeing has long-term benefits. Frequent engagement in absorbing skilled activities is associated with better performance and satisfaction in education and work environments. Having close, confiding relationships with family and friends is associated with greater happiness and better health. Meaning and purpose in life correlate with a wide range of indices of wellbeing and quality of life. The accomplishment of valued goals is associated with positive emotions and subjective wellbeing.

Research shows that positive emotions have numerous benefits, the most important of which are better physical health and longevity. People with high levels of positive emotion experience better health or, if they are ill, better recovery, mainly because they engage in heathier lifestyles and are more optimistic, their immune systems work efficiently, and this in turn protects them from illness.

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