In 2020, a study tracking the happiness levels of 14,000 Australians over nineteen years was released. The results confirmed a truism – no matter the spectacular ups and downs of a lifetime, we retain a hardwired happiness set point. So then, what’s the point of trying to build a better life?

According to the scientists, the answer lies in understanding the difference between hedonic and eudaimonic life events. Hedonic events are potent but short-lasting. They are the rush of getting a promotion, selling a house, having a dream wedding – all these wins trigger a high that ultimately expires. In other words, they have little longterm bearing on our base happiness level. 

Bolstering our sense of contentment necessitates a slower kind of wellbeing. Eudaimonic happiness is achieved through experiences of meaning and purpose. It is by investing in eudaimonic wellbeing, which is cognitive rather than highly emotional, that scientists found our set happiness inches higher. Contentment can’t be hurried.


Charles Blackman, 'Titania Dreaming'


Collecting art: Hedonic or eudaimonic?

Finding, securing and hanging a dream work of art can be a thrill. Perhaps then, flushed with conquest, the collector is pursuing hedonic, rather than eudaimonic, pleasure. Yet, unlike a new dress or phone, art appeals to a more spiritual impulse – the pursuit of meaning. 

For many collectors, saddled with rational, demanding jobs, accumulating a thoughtful and illuminating collection is about enriching the world they inhabit. It is an investment in the self, culture, beauty and legacy. What starts as a hedonic rush flowers into eudaimonic satisfaction.  


John Olsen, 'Giraffes at Mt Kenya'


The expert's advice

There are two ways to look at hedonic versus eudaimonic wellbeing. On one hand, the fleetingness of hedonic pleasure suggests that we should put less emphasis on short-term goals. If the high of a promotion is doomed to expire, maybe missing your best friend’s birthday to work late is not a fair trade.  

On the other hand however, it is comforting to know that our inner wellbeing can withstand the twists and turns of fortune. For better and worse, life happens – and we’re relatively stoic against its turbulence. Perhaps then, pursue the promotion, embrace the highs and lows. 


David Larwill, 'Dog'


Either way, what remains critical is caring for our eudaimonic wellbeing. Relationships, health, meaningful hobbies and work – all these arteries feed directly into your set happiness point. Conscientiously caring for them strengthens your life satisfaction. Maybe you miss out on a prize but come home to a house thrumming with friends, family and an art collection that holds personal meaning. It’s about the journey, not the conquest. 


Charles Blackman, 'Top Cat'