Happiness. A state of mind that nearly all humans are constantly searching for. Several months ago I watched a wonderful documentary called Happy and it really got me thinking about what happiness actually is. When I went to college I majored in psychology. In my lifetime, there is no way I can learn everything about the field of psychology. However, an area that has been intriguing me over the past few years is called “positive psychology”. In a nutshell, I would define positive psychology as being the study of happiness, how humans can flourish more and find fulfillment in their lives. Of course, the area itself is much larger and broader than what I just stated. If you’d like to read more about it then check out this site.
The topic of positive psychology is something I am going to write about often on this blog, so get familiar with it! The reason I’m writing these posts is so you can find more happiness and fulfilment in your life. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering other topics on happiness as well—including some tips and habits to help you feel happier every day.
For each post, I’ll go through a topic that I think is relevant to finding happiness. So, today, let’s get right into it by introducing the man called the father of positive psychology—Martin Seligman. I was first introduced to Seligman and his contribution of positive psychology when I was in college. His theories and his lengthy questionnaires on the study of happiness were groundbreaking in the development and study of positive psychology.
In Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness” he explains that there are three pathways to happiness: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life. Let’s go through each of them and then I will talk about the implications they have on finding happiness in your life.
The pleasant life
This path of happiness comes through, well, having as many pleasurable experiences as possible. This means experiencing as many positive feelings as we can in our life. This would also incorporate using mindfulness to allow those positive experiences to last longer. An example of this would be to experience something that makes you happy—perhaps eating a huge bowl of ice cream. At least for me, that is a super pleasurable experience! When I’m eating the ice cream I am very happy. It tastes good and I savor the moment. But there are several issues with the pleasant life which Seligman brought up in a TED talk.
The first issue with the pleasant life is that our experience of positive emotion is about 50 percent heritable (inherited) and not modifiable. Also, Seligman states that the pleasant life is not malleable.
Finally, positive emotion habituates very quickly. Just think about that example of eating the bowl of ice cream. At first you love the taste of it, but by the time you finish it you barely experience that same awesome and pleasurable experience you started with.
The good life
Next we will move onto the good life. The good life is finding your highest strengths in life and using them in work, friendship, parenting and in relationships.
Stop for a moment and think about one of your greatest passions in life—something you know is a true strength of yours. Now try and think about what happens when you are truly engaged in this passion of yours. What usually happens? Most people would report that during these moments they have intense concentration and feel as if time stops. This is a term that Seligman calls “flow”.
For example, if someone is really passionate about playing the piano then they can become so absorbed in what they are doing that they are in a total state of flow. It’s as if they become one with the music. They don’t realize how much time passes when playing. To them, this is a true state of happiness.
The meaningful life
The meaningful life also means that you are aware of your highest strengths and that you use them to give back to the world and share your strengths with something bigger than you are. People who live meaningful lives often give back to their community and are altruistic. Mother Teresa would be a good example of someone living a meaningful life.
What gives your life meaning if dependent on you—this question is something only you can answer.
So what do these three lives have to do with YOUR happiness?
Those three lives have a lot to do with your happiness. I’ve introduced this topic to get you thinking about happiness and what that means for you.
Personally speaking, I believe a happy life is a combination of the pleasant, good and meaningful life. If you try to spend all of your life only living life by experiencing pleasure (the pleasant life) you will never find true bliss. Although being able to have pleasurable experiences often seems like the key to happiness it is really not long lasting.
However, if you combine having pleasurable experiences with also having a good and meaningful life, then you will be on the path to finding true happiness in your life. I do believe that in our daily lives we need to feel a good amount of flow (the good life) and also be giving back to something that is larger than us (the meaningful life) in order to find true bliss.
How can I find more happiness in my life right now?
First, you must figure out what your strengths are. Know them. Own them. These are the tools for you finding your happiness. The reason is because once you know those strengths you can use them to figure out what you should spend your time and life on. Don’t let anyone stop you. Not your parents. Not your friends. You know in your heart what your strengths are—don’t lose them!
Once you figure out your strengths, you will be able to transfer them to experiencing more flow in your life, and also using your strengths to give back and to help others. Of course, you can still have moments of eating a big bar of chocolate or buying new clothes to combine all three happy lives together. So, truly experience a balanced life of happiness.
For example, I believe right now I am balancing the three lives of happiness. I definitely indulge in pleasurable experiences when I can—I love eating sweets! But, I don’t let those pleasurable experiences control my life. I spend my days teaching English, writing and spending time exploring my passions. The result? I experience a lot of flow in my life where I lose track of time and become totally absorbed in what I am doing. I give back to others and feel that I am truly helping others achieve their goals and dreams. From this balance, I’ve found a deep sense of happiness that I’ve never felt before. I honestly can tell you right now is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Find balance in your lives of happiness, and I promise that you will feel the same as well 🙂