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.