Wellbeing as a Philosophy and Practice of Flourishing

Ian Edwards was the recipient of a 2013 Assessment Award for the course, “Wellbeing: Theory and Practice.”

On Jan. 23, 2014, Ian Edwards represented the Student Wellbeing Committee and the Student Wellbeing Club as the recipient of a 2013 Assessment Award for the course, Wellbeing: Theory and Practice. The aforementioned course was piloted during the fall 2013 semester with a group of 10 student volunteers comprising a small representative sample of the Duquesne University student body. The primary intent of the course was and is to help students learn how to take care of themselves. The secondary intent was and is to help students develop a fuller understanding of the Dimensions of a Duquesne Education and to help them live the Mission of Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit. In separating out the intentions, Ian Edwards is not suggesting that they are unrelated. In spirit and in truth, they are fundamentally interconnected in that the Mission of the University is philosophically and spiritually foundational to the Dimensions, and that by understanding and living the Mission, a student is much better equipped to take care of him/herself. Thus, the philosophy of Wellbeing that was articulated in the course can be appreciated as an extended commentary on and practical application of the Mission itself.

What exactly is Wellbeing and why would it be fundamental to student self-care? Wellbeing can be understood as an English translation of what Aristotle referred to as eudaimonia. Eudamonia has been translated as “happiness” or “contentment” among other terms. Yet, it is more all-encompassing. The term itself is active rather than static in nature. It is a movement of the “eu-daimon,” literally, the “good spirit.” (In Christian terms, it could even be conceptualized as a movement or inspiration by the Holy Spirit). It implies virtue (or excellence), moreover, a practical or ethical wisdom, a wisdom that is lived from the source, which is the Spirit. When such a wisdom is lived, what occurs is flourishing, which is the idea that Ian Edwards believes corresponds best to wellbeing as eudaimonia.

In teaching a student various theories and practices of Wellbeing, my hope was and is to impart what can be considered an ethics of flourishing. In practical terms, the students in the pilot course were introduced to a Mind/Body/Spirit model for self-care that was derived from Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory. Ultimately though, calling Wellbeing a form of “self-care” is a bit of a misnomer in that it is in fact an ethics that includes but also transcends care of the self (or that it defines a self that is more interdependent and less self-enclosed.) The sense of self, from the perspective of Wellbeing, is situated within an interdependent world and has as its basis a situatedness within history. An understanding of the paradigm(s) of Wellbeing is in itself transformational. Thus, in moving the course forward, students would be introduced to various philosophers, ranging from Plato, Aristotle, and Marcus Aurelius; to Kant, Schopenhauer, and the Dalai Lama. The course would be academic but also practical, as it would be considered a course in Ethics. One of the major objectives would be to utilize and reflect upon the aforementioned philosophers and their associated ethical philosophies from the perspective of lived wisdom, applying philosophical ethics to real world problems in pursuit of responses to the question, “What is the good life and how can I live it?” Ian Edwards’ goal is to approach philosophical ethics as a kind of therapeutics for living well, rather than as an abstract system of ideas that have no bearing upon how to live a life of meaning and fulfillment.

In teaching a course in Philosophical Ethics that has Wellbeing as its foundation, Ian Edwards intends to help students live happier and more fulfilling lives. The aim of the course is not merely to satisfy an academic requirement, but to help students learn how to live well, so that they pursue the “good life” as both their means and end. With such a pursuit in mind, questions and dilemmas regarding life itself, questions pertaining to relationships, identity, career, and love become not so much separate problems to solve but mysteries to be both beheld and lived.