The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Joseph Raho

The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Dr. Joseph Raho

Eudaimonia AwardsUCLA is holding their third annual Eudaimonia awards on April 29th, 2019, and in anticipation for the event, I sat down with ethicist Dr. Joseph Raho to discuss the roots of eudaimonia in ancient Greek philosophy. After majoring in philosophy in undergrad, Dr. Raho wished to use the analytic skills he learned during his studies in a very practical way. He found that opportunity in bioethics, landing a job after graduation with The President’s Council on Bioethics (a federal bioethical commission in DC). That experience led him to pursue his PhD in moral philosophy with a concentration on end-of-life ethics at the Universita’ di Pisa, Italy. This is how Dr. Raho ended up living in Italy for five years, developing a passion for Italian art and culture, espresso, and reminiscing about the passeggiata. He returned to the States to do his post-doctoral fellowship in clinical ethics at the UCLA Health Ethics Center in 2014. He was hired as clinical ethicist for UCLA Health in the spring of 2016. In this role, he aims to facilitate the principled resolution of ethical conflicts and challenges that healthcare professionals, patients, and their families face in the hospital setting.

Feb 2015 Ethics Center Raho

Photo by Julia Saltzman

Q: If you had to give a quick elevator pitch to describe Eudaimonia to someone who did not know what it was, what would it sound like?

A: I would have to start with what it means in Ancient Greek: Eu (good) daimon (divinity or spirit). It’s someone who has a good spirit, or someone who has been able to realize their inner spirit. In English, it’s something akin to happiness, enjoyment, or pleasure. The best translation is not happiness, however, but a state of flourishing or excellence. Aristotle connected eudaimonia with virtuous behavior—virtue in accordance with reason and contemplation. Virtue is not about singular, isolated activities and behaviors, but habitual ones. You become virtuous by molding yourself through your actions over time. This raises important questions: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to flourish specifically as a human being? What does it mean to live well? What kind of person do I desire to become? What kind of activities, projects, or hobbies should I seek out because they will be conducive to my overall flourishing? At a very rudimentary level, it will be hard to flourish if you don’t have the basic necessities in life. I would also add that it’s hard to flourish alone—activities, projects, and hobbies are important, but frequently leave one only partially fulfilled, so relationships are a big part of what it means to flourish. To live well involves doing good not only for yourself, but also for others. We must strive to go beyond ourselves, overcoming our limitations. Finally, living a good life is, in a major way, connected with the various roles one has been given or assumed in life (for example, that of a parent, healthcare professional, or teacher). What does it mean to truly flourish in those roles?

Q: Where did you first hear about Eudaimonia? What do you remember about that moment/time?

A: It was my freshman year of college while studying ancient philosophy. I remember that when the professor talked about it, the concept resonated with me. I think each of us tries to live a meaningful existence. Human beings strive to create meaning. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the answer is, it’s about the dialogue—and that really drew my interest.

Q: How do you incorporate Eudaimonia into your life?

A: Mindfulness and reflection about your life and the lives of others.

Q: Can you explain the link between Eudaimonia and Philosophy?

A: The word philosophy comes to us from Greek, meaning “love of wisdom.” Yet, you don’t have to be an academic philosopher to be a reflective thinker. Human beings are naturally curious and reflective individuals. We all yearn for understanding and meaning. Philosophy is a branch of knowledge that tries to uncover fundamental truths about ourselves and our world in a systematic way. Eudaimonia is a state of human flourishing or excellence. Philosophical reflection would seek to better understand fundamental truths about what it means to flourish or be excellent human beings and why.

Q: What’s one bit of advice you would give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their lives?

A: I would ask the person: “Where do you find joy in life and why is that aspect of your life filled with joy?” Trying to find meaning and purpose in life is admittedly very subjective—it will depend on what a person values. Striving for meaning and purpose should be understood as a journey instead of as a destination. It’s not necessarily about achieving particular things or goals (even if those things are important). Ultimately, I think the person should ask herself “What kind of person do I want to become?” and then strive toward that ideal.

Q: What can one do daily, monthly, yearly, to live with Eudaimonic principles?

A: That is a very difficult question! One should think about what it means to flourish in a holistic sense and set that as a goal for oneself. Then, he or she should strive to live in accordance with that goal one step at a time, recognizing that it may need to be modified along the way.

Q: What gives you purpose in life?

A: Relationships. Being a good partner, a good friend, a good family member, a good colleague. We should also try to help people if we are in a position to do so. Finally, we should be mindful about our actions and their impacts on others. As an ethicist, I aim to identify, analyze, and help people navigate difficult value-laden decisions. My goal is to equip them with the tools needed to arrive at their own decisions, in a way that is consistent with their deeply-held values and beliefs. I like to think that I am using my training in a creative way to assist individuals who may be struggling with complex medical decisions.

Q: What would you like UCLA to know about the Eudaimonia Awards?

A: The purpose of the awards is to recognize outstanding persons whose actions embody our collective ideals of a life well lived. The winners not only excel as individuals, but also use their talents for the broader good of the community and society at large by making an impact on the lives of others. By recognizing and celebrating such excellence, the hope is to get people on campus to think: “That is the type of person I want to become.”



Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

Peter Whybrow in HCI Blog

Eudaimonia Honoree Spotlight: Peter Whybrow

For the second year in a row, the Healthy Campus Initiative is hosting the UCLA Eudaimonia Awards. This year’s ceremony will be held tonight, April 24th, after a TEDxUCLA Salon on the subject of altruism at the Pauley Pavilion Club.  What is eudaimonia? It’s human flourishing, living a good life, prosperity, happiness, and how people live to achieve these goals. The ceremony will honor remarkable people in the UCLA community for living lives rich in meaning and purpose. One of the honorees is Dr. Peter Whybrow, the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, physician-in-chief at the Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, and author of the book The Well-Tuned Brain.

AF: What is something unexpected or something that we may not know about you?

PW: I grew up in the rural countryside in England. I spent most of my young life wandering around by myself and with friends, riding bicycles, working on the local farm, and generally becoming enchanted by the countryside and nature. This is how I got into studying biology and endocrinology, and later psychiatry. These experiences triggered in me a real appreciation of the human within the place of the world.

AF: What does eudaimonia mean to you?

PW:It gives you purpose in life, but it doesn’t just happen. It only comes through hard work. [Eudaimonia] is not something that descends on you, it’s something that you really have to work at. The natural state of the human mind is not just joy and happiness, in fact, it’s instinctually driven, self-interested, focused on the first term, and ruled by habit. Most people don’t sit around enjoying the sunny day, they’re flying around all over the place. The important thing to remember is that eudaimonia comes from a true understanding of the world and awareness of it.

We have wonderful powers of reason and personality, but we don’t use all of that in the world. A lot of imagination is fed to us through technology, and I’m a strong believer that we need to pay attention to the human world, to the natural world, and out of that grows a sense of responsibility and character that then brings harmony and a joy of living. That’s why we have to work hard at it, we have to override this sense of self interest and the way in which we are built.

AF: What advice would you give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their life?

PW: It doesn’t happen naturally. If you follow Adam Smith’s cardinal values: fairness, benevolence, and prudence, it builds character, and if you have character, in the long run, I submit you will have eudaimonia. You will be flourishing because you have joy in yourself and all the things you do for other people. Being attached to others allows you to find this sense of balance that eudaimonia applies.

AF: Time is often a barrier for wellbeing for students and many others. Any advice on prioritizing wellbeing amidst a busy schedule?

PW: That’s true, but it’s only because they make it so. Self-regulation is not done all by yourself, of course, it’s learned from the people you grow up with, your parents, and significant people in your environment. But self-regulation comes from a thoughtful understanding of the way in which individuals are and then recognizing the priorities of what is good for them and what is not good for them, and that is what wellbeing is all about. So when you say that time is often a barrier to wellbeing, I don’t believe that. The misuse of time is a barrier to wellbeing, but you’ve got to learn how to self-regulate yourself to use time appropriately. Unfortunately, we live in times which that does not easily happen. You can’t cultivate eudaimonia in a debt-fueled consumer society where material gluttony is in fact the order of the day. We want more, we want our machines to go faster. We are our own worst enemy. It’s not just the marketplace, it’s the way we have interpreted the market place.

AF: What gives you purpose in life?

PW:  The joy of humans. Not only knowing yourself, but in the ways that you extend yourself to others in ways that are pleasurable and valuable to them, and very giving to one’s own self.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

Madison Feldman

Eudaimonia Society Spotlight: Madison Feldman

Madison Feldman is a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA studying Geography with a Conservation Biology and a Geospatial Analysis & Technology double minor. Along with classes, Madison works as the Undergraduate Coordinator for HCI, gardens at the jane b semel HCI Community Garden and DIG UCLA Garden, and enjoys ocean sports, such as dory boat and beach volleyball. She also hosts the show Groovy Smoothie on UCLA Radio every Thursday at 10 a.m. to talk about the environment, food, health, and other passions of hers.

Madison was nominated for the Eudaimonia Society because she is high energy, enjoys life, and spreads that energy to those around her. She also manages to check-in with her peers and support them in both personal and professional ways.

To Madison, eudaimonia means being in her flow: “When I’m connecting different people to different resources and opportunities that I think could benefit them and that they’re passionate about, that’s when I feel like I’m in my flow. That’s what gives me passion, or ‘sustained happiness.’”

Madison mentions there are many resources on campus she loves sharing, including HCI’s student grants program and volunteering opportunities. “Almost like a megaphone, if I find out about an opportunity to volunteer at a school, I try to share that with as many people as possible. I’ll tell people, ‘Oh, are you busy this day? You should go!’ So I’ll just bring up current events and activities people can actively participate in and share that with them.”

In order to accomplish her goal of sharing resources, Madison mentions that talking to people is incredibly important for her. “If you don’t talk to people then you don’t know what their interests are or what their passions are, so you can’t really connect them to anything,” she says. “So, that’s important, just being able to talk to people. I know I always make awkward eye contact or make weird faces or noises sometimes because it’s kind of scary to talk to people you don’t know. But I think that the payout of putting yourself in a situation where you have to reach out and say, ‘Hey I like your jacket!’ and you start talking and, I don’t know, it’s just willingness to be open to other people. It’s terrifying, but I think it really helps you be able to engage with other people and find out what’s important to them.”

When asked about how she balances school, work, and her healthy lifestyle Madison says, “I’m working on improving that!” Primarily, she recommends “just knowing what your limits are, learning about yourself, and respecting the standards that you set for yourself.”

Specifically, Madison recently joined the swim team. She says it’s “helpful because independently working out can sometimes be difficult. I like to be on a team. Being accountable to go and see my team and go to a scheduled workout is really helpful to get workouts and exercise into my regular schedule. And this quarter I’m also just working on more alternative workouts: instead of walking I can run to class or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Just something to help me get exercise, that’s how I feel balanced with my work.”

Madison also acknowledges that sleep is really important. “I go to sleep early and I wake up early. I guess I’m a morning person. Ideally, I would love to go to sleep at like 9, or even 10, and then wake up at 5 in the morning and do my work because that’s when I feel focused and there’s less distraction.” Part of her self-care is setting boundaries of when she needs to leave to go to bed: “If I’m in a situation that has me out really late, I’ll be like ‘it’s time for me to go,’ standing up for myself and saying I have to leave now.”

Another helpful tip Madison gives for living a healthy life amidst a busy schedule is meditating: “Right when you wake up, instead of going right to starting your work or doing whatever, which is what I usually do, waking up, stretching, [meditating] and then entering the real world. That’s something I’m working on.” Overall, Madison says living a healthy life with a busy schedule is mostly about “being flexible and adaptable” and understanding that “it all takes practice.”

Madison’s passion of helping connect people to resources expands to her goals after college. Interested in conservation, Madison wants to do research in Costa Rica and eventually go into coastal conservation and outdoor education and science. “Raising people’s awareness about conservation is where I see myself fitting in. Like, bringing awareness to things, now bigger than just a resource but it’s more on the larger natural scale. It’s kind of using that skill, that interest of mine, to connect people to resources about what’s happening around them.”

The advice Madison would give to someone looking for purpose in their life is to just explore. “I think the best way to grow is to keep taking steps in a direction and then once you get to the dead end of that, turn, and see if there’s another direction and take that. Because I’ve taken so many random classes, I’ve gotten injured, there’s been a lot of paths that I thought I wanted to take, like becoming an RA for example. I really wanted to become an RA and I didn’t get selected and that led me to working with HCI. There’s a lot of stuff, like being injured in one sport led me to being a rower and then I was recruited. So there’s just a lot of things that feel like, ‘Oh my gosh this is horrible!’ but you have to keep trying something. Keep going!”


Madison will be inducted into the UCLA Eudaimonia Society on April 24th, as part of a TEDxUCLA Salon on altruism, hosted by the MindWell pod. Click here for more information about the event and for tickets.

Aurora Finley is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in English. Along with blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is the Sexperts Executive Director for the 2017-18 academic year. She is also a regular volunteer for UCLA’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and blogs for the online UCLA Odyssey community.

Eudaimonia Award Winner Louis Tse

Eudaimonia Award Winner Spotlight: Louis Tse

Aristotle distinguished hedonia, the brief, fleeting happiness derived from immediate satisfaction of drives, from eudaimonia, the sustained happiness that comes from living a life rich in purpose and meaning. The UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative Eudaimonia Society was founded to recognize members of the UCLA community who exemplify Eudaimonia and inspire others to seek their own Eudaimonic well-being. Louis Tse, the recipient of the 2018 Eudaimonia Award, exemplifies Eudaimonia through his incredible personal efforts and dedication to others.

Louis grew up in Arizona where he first realized his fascination with engineering and service by volunteering at local museums. In the spring of 2016, Louis Tse earned his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at UCLA and now works at NASA’s Jet Prepulsion Laboratory (JPL). Currently, he’s working on building a spacecraft to study planets in our solar system, including earth.

His efforts at UCLA’s campus were no less ambitious. Louis’s student-run Bruin Shelter program best exemplifies his pursuit of Eudaimonia. The Bruin Shelter, which launched in Fall 2016, seeks to house college students experiencing homelessness in a safe and welcoming environment. It is the only shelter in the nation exclusively for individuals pursuing a degree in higher education and one sustained through collective, communal effort. As a student, Louis formed connections with other student organizations, such as Swipe Out Hunger, and the Fielding School of Public Health, who both shared his vision of creating a safe haven for students with no other options for housing. In order to fund the establishment of the Bruin Shelter, Louis Tse lived out of his car to save on rent money. As Executive Director of Bruin Shelter, he’s currently working to increase the capacity of the facility and acquire resources that will sustain the project’s growth. I had the opportunity to sit down with Louis and ask him how he strives for purpose.

Teddy Tollin (TT): How do you balance passion and taking care of yourself in your life?

Louis Tse (LT): My passion has become inextricably intertwined with my well-being. When students are concerned with their immediate safety, where they are going to live, or get their next meal, that begins to override the other kinds of well-being in their life, including academic performance. Their safety and success is the wellspring for my well-being.

TT: What does Eudaimonia mean to you in your life?

LT: It is a great modern tribute to caring for a whole person.

TT: What gives you purpose in life?

LT: I co-founded Students 4 Students, which is a shelter for college students in Los Angeles experiencing homelessness, and it is run entirely by UCLA students. In a larger sense, I find a tremendous feeling of purpose from providing a ballast in our community for people who need it most. It’s not simply the struggles of these students that have moved me; it is their durable optimism and unflagging determination.

TT: What advice would you give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their lives?

LT: I recommend reframing the earnest idea that we have a stake in one another, as a contract with oneself to be renewed each day. If enough people act upon this thought, we can make meaningful progress in helping people live their lives with dignity and respect.


Louis will be honored as the recipient of this year’s Eudaimonia Award on April 24th, as part of TEDxUCLA Salon on altruism, hosted by the MindWell pod.

Teddy Tollin is a third year Geography major and Geographical Information Systems minor at UCLA. Besides working at his position as the BEWell pod blogger, Teddy is a member of the Transfer Student video team, Co-Chair of the Built Environment Public Health Coalition, and is passionate about Urban Planning.