readers will be wondering what the question means. What is this daimon? How
does it relate to eudaimonia? How can you identify your daimon?
In his book,
Personal Destinies, David L Norton explains that your daimon is your
innate potentiality – a unique “ideal of perfection”. Every person has this
innate potentiality as well as an empirical actuality. Self-actualization is
the process of discovering your daimon and living in harmony with it.
Norton suggests that people begin to discover their daimon
during adolescence. He argues that autonomous self-awareness first occurs in
the form of one’s awareness of being misidentified by other
people. (That is clear in a passage quoted in the preceding
essay on this blog.) Adolescence is a period of exploration and experiment when
mistakes are inevitable. Exploration and experiment are part of the process by
which individuals may discover their daimon and obtain the maturity to choose
to live in harmony with it – to live an integral life.
Integrity is the consummate virtue. It is “living one’s own
truth”. An integral life follows from choosing “wholeheartedly” the self one
shall strive to become.
I have been accustomed to thinking of eudaimonia in terms of
the good life, or self-actualization. As indicated in the passage quoted above,
however, Norton draws attention to the distinct feeling of eudaimonia that
constitutes its intrinsic reward. He describes that feeling as “being where one
wants to be, doing what one wants to do”, as well as the feeling of being where
one must be, and wholeheartedly doing what one must do. (pp 216, 222). The
feeling of eudaimonia signals that the present activity of the individual is in
harmony with his daimon. (p 5).
By contrast, the dysdaimonic individual is impelled to two
different directions at the one time:
“The dysdaimonic individual is perpetually distracted, being
only in a part of himself where you find him while part of himself is somewhere
else, his ‘here’ and ‘there’ being not continuous but contradictory.” (p 221)
Norton suggests that eudaimonia is fully present whenever a
person is living in truth to himself or herself. Eudaimonia is as much present
for the individual who has just set foot upon his path, as for the accomplished
genius of self-actualization. I particularly like this sentence:
“It would make good sense to say that to set foot upon one’s
path is as good as arriving at the end, provided we recognize that a condition
of being on one’s path is to be engaged at walking”. (p 239)
Norton’s book begins with a quotation from Carl Jung, who
speaks of the daimon as an “inner voice” that has determined the direction of
his life. Norton recognises that we may be apprehensive that “an ear turned
towards our inwardness will detect at most only meaningless murmurings”. Many people
who read the book will no doubt have a desire to listen to their daimon but might
still have some difficulty in hearing its voice, amid all the meaningless inner
murmurings that are seeking their attention.
How can you identify your daimon?
As a philosopher, David Norton could not have gone much
further than he has in this book in helping readers to identify and follow their
personal daimons. Anyone wishing to proceed further might find some
contributions from positive psychology to be of assistance. In what follows, I briefly
mention some approaches that I think are helpful.
Two relevant approaches which I discussed briefly in Freedom,
Progress, and Human Flourishing involve identifying personal
values and character strengths. Stephen Hayes developed Acceptance and
Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help people to identify the personal values that
they want to guide them in important aspects of their lives. Russ Harris, a
therapist who has written extensively about ACT, has written a book, The
Happiness Trap, which I reviewed here.
Harris’ book is highly relevant to some of the issues discussed by David Norton.
Martin Seligman and Christopher Petersen identified 24
character strengths that they view as the routes by which virtues can be
achieved. People can obtain useful information about themselves by responding
to a questionnaire at
the VIA Institute of Character, and having the responses fed back in summary
At a more personal level, I should mention the help I have
obtained from the “inner game” books written by Tim Gallwey, a sports and
business coach. Gallwey’s books (described here) are pertinent
because they deal with performance problems that arise when an individual
becomes confused by inner voices that conflict with his or her authentic inner
voice. Gallwey suggests many techniques to help people to maintain focused
attention on the task at hand, avoid self-doubt, and exercise free and
conscious choice when that is appropriate. People are helped to discover their
true identity as they master this “inner game”. My podcast episode, entitled “Tim
Gallwey, my inner game guru”, can be found here.
David Norton’s book, Personal Destinies, provides an
insightful account of the nature of eudaimonia. He explains it as a distinct
feeling as well as the condition of actualizing one’s innate potentiality.
I have suggested some contributions from positive psychology
that I think are helpful in complementing the approach adopted in this book.