Orientation to Well-Being Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Orientation to well-being distinguishes between hedonic and eudaimonic components. Hedonia is the ‘feel good’ part of well-being associated with enjoyable experiences, being relaxed, or being engaged in exciting activities. Its measurement entails people’s subjective assessments about how they feel about these aspects of their life and their overall level of happiness.

Eudaimonia is about getting to know one’s true self, or ‘daimon’, and striving to be the best one can be. The core element is having a sense of purpose in life. Eudaimonic well-being is attained through the pursuit of self discovery by engaging in personally expressive activities, and by developing one’s talents and aptitudes through significant effort in activities that are personally meaningful (Benson & Scales, 2009; Ryan & Deci, 2001; Waterman, 1993; Waterman et al., 2010). For adolescents, eudaimonic well-being is inextricably tied to identity formation which involves ‘establishing goals, values, and beliefs providing direction, person, and meaning to life’ (Waterman & Schwartz, 2013, p. 100).  The distinguishing feature that separates personally expressive activities from other daily activities are passionate feelings that ‘‘this is who I am’’ or ‘‘what I am meant to do’’ (Waterman, 1993).

Why is it important?

  • Teachers can promote identity development by offering care and support in cultivating not just academic achievement, but in addressing the “whole student” (Rich & Schachter, 2012).
  • Rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, promotion of expressive activities requires adaptive, individually-focused programs (Coatsworth & Sharp, 2013).
  • Through personal expressiveness, students can discover interests and aptitudes related to their core identity which, in turn, are believed to promote future potentials and investments (Sharp & Coatsworth, 2012).
  • Students who report a greater number of expressive activities are more likely to report high levels of wellness (Coatsworth & Sharp, 2013).
  • Teachers can inspire students to discover their own personally expressive activities by modeling their passions and describing how they found these pursuits (Waterman & Schwarz, 2013).
  • Both eudaimonia and hedonia contribute to well-being and, thus, together yield a stronger measure of well-being than either does alone (Huta & Ryan, 2010).

How do we measure it?

In the OurSCHOOL Secondary school survey, students respond to Likert questions that distinguish between hedonic and eudaimonic orientations to well-being: the hedonic items pertain to values and behaviours, while the eudaimonic items cover student engagement in personally expressive goals and whether they have a sense of purpose in life. The data are scaled on a 10-point scale, and students with a score greater than or equal to 6 (i.e., slightly higher than neutral) are considered to have a ‘positive hedonic well-being’ and/or a ‘positive eudaimonic well-being’. The results are respectively reported as “the percentage of students with a positive hedonic well-being” and “the percentage of students with a positive eudaimonic well-being.”


Benson, P. L. & Scales, P. C. (2009). The definition and preliminary measurement of thriving in adolescence. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 85-104.

Coatsworth, J. D., & Sharp, E. H. (2013). Discovering positive lives and futures: Adolescent eudaimonic expression through activity involvement. In A. S. Waterman (Ed.), The best within us: Positive psychology perspectives on eudaimonia (pp. 249-267). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Huta, V., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). Pursuing pleasure or virtue: The differential and overlapping well-being benefits of hedonic and eudaimonic motives. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being, 11(6), 735-762.

Rich, Y., & Schachter, E. P. (2012). High school identity climate and student identity development. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 37(3), 218-228.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual review of Psychology, 52, 141-166.

Sharp, E. H., & Coatsworth, J. D. (2012). Adolescent future orientation: The role of identity discovery in self-defining activities and context in two rural samples. Identity, 12(2), 129-156.

Waterman, A. S. (1993). Two conceptions of happiness: Contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(4), 678–691.

Waterman, A. S., Schwartz, S. J.; Zamboanga, B. L.; Ravert, R. D.; Williams, M. K.; Agocha, V. B.; Yeong Kim, S.; & Donnellan, M. B. (2010). The questionnaire for eudaimonic well-being: Psychometric properties, demographic comparisons, and evidence of validity. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 41-61.

Waterman, A. S., Schwartz, S. J. (2013). Eudaimonic identity theory. In A. S. Waterman (Ed.), The best within us: Positive psychology perspectives on eudaimonia (pp. 99-118). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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