by Umair Haque
September 14, 2017

from EudaimoniaAndCo Website

Italian version

How are we, I wondered, to make a giant leap from an economic paradigm of human organization to a eudaimonic one?


From one that single-mindedly, one-dimensionally maximizes near-term income, at the price of the well-being, health, flourishing, of you, me, our grandkids, and our planet, to one that elevates and expands all that  -  from one that, as it grows more and more broken, minimizes life realizing itself, instead of maximizing life realizing itself?

To be honest, I was much happier dying than thinking about economics.


But death is a funny thing. It asks you questions about life that you can't unask.


So as much as I didn't want to, I found myself thinking, reluctantly, about life itself. How the old paradigm fails to elevate and expand it. How the old world is falling, but the new world isn't yet born. About us, stuck in the interregnum. And most of all, about an absence of good answers for what to do about it all.

So I did what any sensible person would do. I 'created' one. I call it "eudaimonics"...


You can think of it as a branch of, an adjunct to, or a step beyond "economics". It doesn't really matter. And no, it's not the best, or only answer. Just my own little framework.

We've spent centuries learning to speak about the economics of things  -  which is the paradigm through which we see, enact, and organize human potential. Now I think it's time we learned to speak of the eudaimonics of things.


How much eudaimonia, life well lived, does an organization  -  whether a company, city, town, or country  -  realize? For how long, how intensely, along which dimensions?

Let me give you three simple examples.

Social media has great economics:

Facebook and Twitter and so on maximize incomes and earn fortunes.

But it's eudaimonics are profoundly unsuccessful:

it makes people unhappy, unfulfilled, and more distant  -  and it's a vector for misinformation and mistrust that's eating away at the fabric of democracy.

In my framework, we'd say social media has a low Omega  -  more about that in a second.


First, see the yawning gap?


An organization can have great economics, but awful eudaimonics. And many, if not most, do, precisely because they maximize income  -  not life realizing itself.


The question is how to put both back into balance with one another.

Fracking has wonderful economics. Gas is extracted cheap, stored efficiently, and distributed at low cost, and so prices have fallen. But it has terrible eudaimonics.


It causes long-term, irreversible, net negative changes in natural capital: it poisons water tables and sparks earthquakes. In my framework, we'd say it has a low Theta  -  we'll get to that shortly.

Again, see the yawning gap?


We all know of fracking's harmful effects  -  and yet because the old paradigm single-mindedly, one-dimensionally maximizes near-term income, those effects aren't represented or valued by it.

Now let's do the biggie, GDP itself.


It counts pollution, mistrust, hate crimes, ill health as benefits  -  if I were to deface a mosque, church, or synagogue, hiring cleaning crews would add to GDP, just as breaking your legs would, because you'd have to go to the hospital , just as building a car factory does  -  and from there its income-maximizing imperative trickles down to companies, cities, towns, banks, markets, funds, households, and so on.


Perhaps you think I'm kidding, and I wish I was:

the above is why American life expectancy is shrinking  -  but the economy is growing.

In my framework, we'd say a society like that has a low Omega, Theta, and Lambda  -  the nation's income's growing, but well-being, real wealth, and human possibility, the fundamental components of eudaimonia, are all declining.

Now that you have a glimpse of what I mean, let's talk about eudaimonics in more detail.


It has two parts,

  • ends and means

  • goals and design principles

I don't think that life can or should be reduced to a one-dimensional end like maximizing income.


So eudaimonics has five ends, to help us optimize for life, in all its richness and fullness, not just reductively, single-mindedly increase a single quantity. Each is embedded in a simple variable.

For example,

- Omega in its simple form is the ratio of an organization's well-being to it's income:

it lets us see how much short-term eudaimonia is being is created for every dollar, yen, or euro spent.

The vast majority of the world's organizations don't create enough Omega, and that's a big reason the world has Massive Existential Problems today.


- Theta is how much real human wealth an organization is creating  -  subtracting illth, or negative wealth, the deterioration of capital, like air pollution, poisoned water tables, misinformation, and mistrust, from it  -  and it gives us a way to see if eudaimonia endures and lasts, or contracts and withers.


- Lambda is how much human possibility an organization is realizing  -  you can think of it as the ratio an organization's realized well-being to the highest comparable well-being (for example, the USA ranks lower than Denmark in nearly every dimension of well-being, which maxes them out)  -  and it lets us see how much eudaimonia is possible.

They're not just abstractions  -  they're tools, meant for you and I to use and employ, pragmatically, here and now in the real world, to begin a new quest:

thinking about what radically more prosperous organizations, whether cities, towns, countries, or corporations, create, build, grow, and transform.

They are there to supplant, augment, or expand our,

goals, targets, missions, visions, aspirations, products, services, ideas,

...the raw stuff of human,

imagination, endeavor, effort, creativity, enterprise, talent, work, play,

...what the point and purpose of human organization is.

The five components can be turned into hard calculations, like GDP for countries, cities, towns, corporations:

we could go out and calculate Omega and Theta, for example, for, say, New York City, the USA, Google, your startup, or the city you live in.

And we probably should...


It'll take armies of talented people  -  and new jobs, roles, and positions for them  -  to do the hard work of collecting the data, synthesizing it, correcting the errors, and so on, to compute those, or similar quantities, over many long years, just as we learned to measure GDP and income and profit and revenue and so on a century and more ago  -  and that's why I say eudaimonics is today's great quest.


And yet, in a way, that's just statistics and arithmetic:

paradigmatic change means beginning to conceptually see anew first.

Tomorrow's step is mechanics  -  today's step, which is harder, more fundamental, is vision.

After ends come means.


The second part of the little framework created for Eudaimonia & Co consists of a set of design principles:

how to build organizations for eudaimonia, to enact the goals above, to live and breathe lives genuinely well lived naturally, effortlessly, genuinely, and transformatively.

They're again very different from what you might be used to  -  not new, technical, abstract, cold as we expect heuristics to be, but very, very old, concrete, human.

Eudaimonia's a funny thing. It's one of the world's most ancient subjects  -  but today, we don't often think anything that's not brand new holds any value.


We discard old ideas like last year's iPhone. Yet when I was at death's door, I realized that ancient ideas gave me vastly better and greater consolation, insight, wisdom, truth, about a life resonant with meaning, happiness, and purpose than today's reductive, simplistic, and frankly often ultrabrutal ones  -  "be resilient! get some grit!!"  -  ever did.


I learned infinitely more from the Zen theory of mind and the classical Indian philosophy of knowledge than I ever did from PhD level macroeconomics about what we are here to be, do, have, live.

So my design principles are a tiny synthesis of the best of thousands of years of Eastern and Western ideas about eudaimonia.


If we're really going to build organizations capable of transforming human lives, then I think we're going to have to enact those timeless ideas, because they are the most powerful ones.


They are really ways to be.


To be what...?

To be here. To be yourself. To be together, engaged, alive, aware, awake, all the things that we want and desire from an economy, a city, a company, a project, from this endeavor of human organization.

By prioritizing economics over eudaimonics, we've created an age where human organizations seems to going backwards in many ways, riven, fractured, stuck, stagnant  -  a natural consequence of a paradigm whose sole end is maximizing near term economic gains at any price, instead of elevating and expanding life's possibility in the first place.


So when I talk about paradigmatic change, it's that imbalance that need correcting.

Let me put that another way.

Maybe we can't change the world.


Maybe we don't need to, or maybe we don't ever really do.


Maybe, just maybe, we are only really here to give it back a little bit of balance, harmony, meaning, purpose, grace, truth, love, so that, through us, life as that beautiful and timeless and universal quest for self-realization goes on flourishing and blossoming.

If that sounds like you, welcome...