Happiness is probably one of the all time vaguest concepts.. It’s very subjective, or at seems that way. It seems like what makes me happy isn’t necessarily what would make you or someone else happy. And researchers like Martin Seligman and Shawn Achor have certainly confirmed that through their work on positive psychology and happiness, respectively.
I want to talk about what we do know for sure on what it means to be happy. And what friends you consider “happy” might know that most of us overlook or seem to forget all too easily. 🙂
1. Seeking pleasure won’t make you a happy.
Shawn Achor has studied happiness at Harvard for over 12 years, and is considered one of today’s leading experts on Happiness. Here’s how he defines it::
” Joy makes us want to invest more deeply in the people around us. It make us want to learn more about our communities. It makes want to find ways to make a better external world for all of us.”
So now I want to bring in something Mr Seligman had to say in his book:
He performed an experiment with one of his students at the University of Pennsylvania.
They wanted to find out if happiness comes more readily from having fun than it does from kind actions.
So they each undertook an assignment for the next class. It was to engage in one pleasurable activity and one philanthropic activity, and write about both.
Here’s what he we wrote about this experiment:
“The results were life-changing. The afterglow of the “pleasurable” activity (hanging out with friends, or watching a movie, or eating a hot fudge sundae) paled in comparison with the effects of the kind action. When our philanthropic acts were spontaneous and called upon personal strengths, the whole day went better. One junior told about her nephew phoning for help with his third-grade arithmetic. After an hour of tutoring him, she was astonished to discover that for the rest of the day she could listen better, she was mellower, and people liked her much more than usual.“
Mr Seligman found that humans don’t just want to experience positive feelings. We want to feel entitled to them.
We want to feel joyful because of some unique contribution.
“Positive emotion alienated from the exercise of character leads to emptiness, to inauthenticity, to depression.” Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligmqn
Most of us, we want to feel like we’re making a meaningful contribution to society. We also want to know that this is why we earn a living.
2. A happy life is built on strengths, not weaknesses.
“When wellbeing comes from engaging our strengths and virtues, our lives are imbued with authenticity.”
Mr Seligman believes what he calls “the good life” is built on authenticity: Making a contribution that is uniquely suited to us as individuals.
Know yourself = Save years of tedious and unfulfilling work
So how do you figure out what you could be uniquely suited for? (Or even passionate about)
Well, allow me to share a neat little mental exercise. It’s called the Eulerian destiny.
I highly recommend you check out the full explanation.
Basically, the Eulerian approach to passion in life suggests that ideally you would be pursuing something you:
- Grew up around
- Strangers have praise you on (so not just friends and family)
- Have been doing for a long time (+5 Years)
- Can talk about effortlessly
“The good life is using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification.” Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman
3. Being happy has a lot to do with making a meaningful contribution to society.
“The well-being that using your signature strengths engenders is anchored in authenticity. But just as wellbeing needs to be anchored in strengths and virtues, these in turn must be anchored in something larger. Just as the good life is something beyond the pleasant life, the meaningful life is beyond the good life. I am not sophomoric enough to put forward a complete theory of meaning, but I do know that it consists in attachment to something larger, and the larger the entity to which you can attach yourself, the more meaning in your life.”
You want to be able to say: “I was here.”
And this has nothing to do with becoming a hero, or a world-renowned celebrity. Rather it has everything to do with becoming someone’s hero, and a celebrity in you own circle of influence. (family, friends, community…etc)
For those of us who do have the opportunity to strive for that, it can be one of our greatest accomplishments.
I say that because let’s face it, the world we live in isn’t perfect.
It’s a world that includes forced labor and broken dreams. Sad to say but, for a lot of people, this discussion we’re having isn’t all that realistic. And I thoroughly realize this.
However, life has brought you and I where we are today. In the position we are in at this time.
There’s no sense in clipping our wings out of shame. It is our responsibility to seize the opportunities we have, and do something.
Something that makes us happy, and that perhaps also has the potential to make the world a better place.
The pursuit of happiness is happiness.
Just as the struggle for survival in life, is life. A lot of people take it for granted and miss it completely.
So what’s meaningful to you?
Is it creating art?
Practicing a sport?
Supporting a cause?
The bottom line is that it doesn’t pay to do what other people are doing, for the sake of “status”.
This is your life we’re talking about. Your misery does not affect other people. Being happy requires that you do you.
Haters will execute their routine, you just focus on executing yours. 🙂
The fact is that somewhere right now, somebody needs you to make a difference in their life.
So here’s a few coaching questions for you:
- What is something you have that could make a difference for somebody?
- How could you begin to make that contribution?
- And how would that start to change the way you see yourself today?
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I’m also on Quora (where I answer random questions)
Check out Authentic Happiness by Dr Martin Seligman for more on this topic