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Hilal English

In the Pursuit of Happiness: Understanding Hedonia, Eudemonia, and Naikan

January 2024

Our handicap is that we think we know our own life, but what we know is only an edited version of reality colored by our emotions and self-centered vision.

I believe that writing on psychology and subjective wellbeing is not about dispassionate dispense of concepts and theories, but it is about influencing and caring deeply for others by sharing ideas, which can be beneficial for readers in making their lives better. In this article, I will be sharing two concepts for improving ‘subjective wellbeing’.
‘Primary enhancement’ is a concept, which says psychological wellbeing can be achieved by two things, i.e., ‘hedonia’ and ‘eudemonia’. Hedonia are the activities that give you immediate pleasure, happiness, and enjoyment, i.e., travelling, watching a season, playing games, eating favorite food, meeting friends, anything or everything that gives you immediate pleasure or excites you. To achieve immediate happiness, you should be indulged in activities falling under hedonia, i.e., trying new restaurants, hiking or being part of some social group. This leads to the concept of ‘expanding repertoire of hedonia’ (pleasure), which is done by listing in priority all possible things or activities that have the potential to give you immediate pleasure. Then see the list and analyse how many of the listed activities are you actually performing. Every week, add one of the activities from the list in your weekly or monthly routine. This is how you will expand repertoire of hedonia. Eudemonia relates to the consequences of self-growth and self-actualization. It means setting certain goals and then achieving them, which results in long lasting happiness. The goals can be of higher level to smaller and simpler goals, like losing certain kilograms of weight in a week or learning a certain language. In a nutshell, hedonia will give you short-term daily happiness and eudemonia will give you comparatively long-term satisfaction, skill or experience, and together these two concepts will ensure subjective wellbeing.
“Ingratitude is the most horrible and unnatural of all the crimes that human beings are capable of committing.”
–Thomas Hobbes. 
Naikan is a Japanese mediation for gratitude, which means looking inside or seeing oneself with the mind's eye to reflect on the life one is living. During this reflection and introspection, one is to ask three questions to oneself, i.e., what I receive? What I give? What troubles and difficulties I cause to others? These questions can be general as above or specific for any specific relation like what have I received from XYZ? What have I given to XYZ? What troubles and difficulties have I caused to XYZ?

Naikan is pivotal in breaking the illusion of truth we have created around ourselves, the self-serving truth we resort to, which is a major hindrance to our wellbeing and happiness.

These questions provide a foundation for reflecting on all relationships, including those with friends, parents, siblings, colleagues, and even children. You can reflect on a specific period of time, i.e., one year, month, week or a special event. To evaluate your relationship with someone, you should think of what you have received from that person, for example your spouse makes breakfast for you daily, when you are sick she takes care of you, she cleans up all the mess that you make in your room, etc. After reflecting on the things your spouse does for you daily, you will realize how much you have benefited from her efforts, which will in turn stir feelings of gratitude in you. Normally we take all such efforts/favors of others for granted since we hurry through our day, giving little attention to all the little things we are receiving. The million dollar question is, are these efforts/favors of others really little? They only seem so because while we are being supported, our attention is elsewhere, but when we lose these entitlements, suddenly we are conscious of its true value. So the whole point of the first question is not only to stir gratitude but to also appreciate the favors we get before we lose them for good. This leads to another beautiful concept called ‘Nichijou Naikan’ which means ‘Daily Naikan’, in which one is asked to list all those blessings which one has received in the past twenty-four hours. Just take five minutes before going to bed and reflect over the blessings you have received in the last twenty-four hours. There is also a General Naikan which says one can reflect upon all the blessings one has received so far, like the vehicle you own, the house you live in, your children, and the good health you enjoy, etc. This reflection will make you realize that you have no reason to be ungrateful and unthankful. I came across a person who was diagnosed with progressive vision degeneration, in which one starts losing his vision eventually to the point of complete blindness. He was just short of complete blindness and was using a magnifying glass to read normal text. He could not read and see properly or drive anymore, but still he was in high spirits. On inquiring, he said that he reminds himself of all the blessings and then thanks his God for all other blessings he has been granted rather than complaining of his loss of vision. Our problem is that we don’t appreciate the countless blessings given to us and take them for granted just like our eyesight. How many of us have thought of eyesight as a blessing? We take it as a blessing only when we lose it. In 2012, I met a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) in Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Peshawar, who had lost both of his legs in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. Not only this, he had also lost both his arms and eyes too. For me, he was just a living dead body who could not walk, lift anything or see but that was not what he thought about himself. When people used to visit him, he would make them laugh to their guts. One day, I mustered up courage and asked him how is it that a person who has lost both his legs, arms and eyes can still be so contented, and above all, jovial and jocular? He replied that “all those years I have been on the taking end. I was granted good health, legs to walk on, eyes to see, arms to lift my children and a stable job. Now instead of remorse on losing these blessings, I thank God for providing it to me in the first place, that too for the last 42 years. I was blessed with eyes, arms, and legs for the last 42 years, that too in return for nothing, so I have no reason to be ungrateful. I could have lost my eyes, arms, and legs in childhood too.”    
The next question to reflect upon is what have I given? What efforts have I made to make others’ lives easier and better? Whether I am only on the taking end, or am I also contributing? This question is practical and a spiritual reconciliation of our relationships with others. Do people around me owe me, or do I owe the people around me? Am I in debt to my spouse, friends, siblings, or are they in debt to me? Appallingly, we often live as entitled personalities as if people around us owe us and we in return owe nothing to nobody and we are entitled to their unconditional support. With this question answered, one will realize that one owes so much to so many people around him; this realization kindles a natural desire to give and serve others and instills in us a greater sense of gratitude and humility. So take another five minutes and make a list of what you have given to others during the past twenty-four hours or over an extended period of time. 
Coming to the last question of Naikan, what troubles or difficulties have I caused? Normally we are more aware of the troubles caused to us by others, but when we are the source of trouble for others, we tend to either ignore it or make excuses to justify our heretical behavior by inner statements like “I didn’t mean it” or “it was an accident” or perhaps we dismiss it as “not such a big deal”. It goes without saying that one should spend at least sixty percent of the time considering how one has caused trouble to others. Now take another five minutes and make a list of the troubles and difficulties you have caused others in the past twenty-four hours or over an extended period of time. Cues that can be helpful in reflecting on this question are: Did I criticize someone for the sake of criticism? Have I been demeaning someone? Have I hurt someone emotionally or physically? Did I not fulfill my commitment? What have I taken for granted?
Naikan can be practiced daily before bedtime for fifteen to twenty minutes. It is pivotal in breaking the illusion of truth we have created around ourselves, the self-serving truth we resort to, which is a major hindrance to our wellbeing and happiness. Our handicap is that we think we know our own life, but what we know is only an edited version of reality colored by our emotions and self-centered vision. The big question is how close can we come to the original draft? And the answer is by staring at the truth in its eyes, by religious and unbiased introspection/reflection, which can be done by practicing Naikan.

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