Article Misidentifies Eudaemonic Well-Being

To the Editor:

Having participated in discussions surrounding Well-Being Institutes at Wake Forest, I am pleased to read that the attention to the topic is now found under The Chronicle’s heading of “Research.”

Regrettably, the research cited in your recent article regarding the Eudaemonia Institute is woefully incomplete (“Koch Money Brings Distress Over a University’s Well-Being Institute,The Chronicle, April 4). It misidentifies eudaemonic well-being and misinforms by being unaware of the scholarly analysis, the research, and the actual campus practices that define progress.

In August 2016, the national higher-education organization I direct published a comprehensive volume titled Well-Being and Higher Education, in which the research and perspectives of 35 well-respected scholars, educators, and institutional leaders contextualized and advanced the research, programmatic initiatives, and campus practices linking examination of the complex concepts of well-being to the purposes, practices, and priorities of higher education — including a chapter authored by two scholars at Wake Forest. An element of great significance in the research is the avoidance of the reductive analysis of well-being to self-reported feelings (and to what is identified in the literature as the empirical inquiries of positive psychology and the hedonic dimensions of well-being).

These are important, but are separable from an analysis of eudaemonic well-being, which (from Aristotle through Dewey, Freire and many others) has to do with identity formation, purposefulness, agency in community with others, discovery or realization of self in contexts of other and difference. Eudaemonic well-being is connected to relational learning, empathetic understanding, intellectual risk-taking, and encountering difference — the “other.” These elements are not fuzzy, soft, or ambiguous. They are just not quantified feelings. They are the evidence in a narrative, in life-stories, in reflection.  They are, by any teacher, observed in the transforming experience of a student — and what we as faculty often mean by making a difference in the lives of our students. They capture an essential core purpose of education.

While we applaud the tilt toward greater attention to well-being in higher education — whether in more conventional structures of classes and curricula or in the formation of institutes — it is critical that a full understanding of well being and the historical and conceptual complexity of eudaemonia and flourishing be at its core — for it is those more full understandings that have the greater bearing on higher education.

Donald W. Harward
Director, Bringing Theory to Practice
Executive Director, S. Engelhard Center
President Emeritus, Bates College

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