Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Do you live in harmony with your daimon?


Some readers will be wondering what the question means. What is this daimon? How does it relate to eudaimonia? How can you identify your daimon?

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 form.

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.

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