In an effort to better define and measure true, authentic happiness, we can look at three “kinds of happiness” studied by positive psychology experts. These “paths” really are ways of walking in the world, of living intentionally and minding the practices that support the sense of joy that we experience.
“Recognize that enduring happiness comes from what you are, not from what you have.” – Richard G. Scott
Martin E. P. Seligman, a leading positive psychologist, introduced his original theory of happiness in the 2002 book, entitled Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. In his book, Dr. Seligman outlined three distinct paths to authentic happiness:
- Engagement or Flow, and
If we intentionally incorporate each of these elements into our lives, not only will authentic happiness be possible for us, but our ability to experience the expected (and unexpected) joys of of such a life will expand, deepen, and become a recurring theme.
Over time and with practice, inner contentment and connection (to ourselves and to the whole) will become our reality, and we’ll know that we played a leading role in forging that reality.
Authentic Happiness: Walking with Pleasantness, Passion, and Purpose
Pathway #1: The Pleasant Life
Leading a pleasant life basically means that we pursue positive emotions about the past, present, and future, while minimizing negative emotions. Positive emotions expand our thinking and encourage us to generate ideas because they broaden our view of the world and build our resources for the future.
Positive psychology identifies ten classified positive emotions:
The pleasant life, as Dr. Seligman describes it, “is wrapped up in the successful pursuit of positive feelings, supplemented by the skills of amplifying these emotions.” In order to lead such a life, we must focus on increasing positive emotions about the:
- Past: through gratitude and forgiveness.
- Present: through breaking habituation (not getting used to a pleasure by spacing its consumption out at intervals), savoring, and mindfulness.
- Future: through cultivating hope and optimism.
The pleasures are delights that have clear sensory, and strong emotional, components that involve little, if any, thinking. Though pleasure is a powerful source of motivation, it doesn’t produce change if not attended to consciously.Positive emotions are not the only ingredient in happy living, but they can guide us higher. Click To Tweet
The positive changes we most desire lead us further up the mountain, so to speak, to the pursuit of what’s known as “The Good Life.”
Pathway #2: The Good Life
On this path to happiness we engage in activities called gratifications. Leading the good life means we seek out gratifications; these engage us fully, last longer than the pleasures, involve a lot of thinking and interpretation, and are grounded in our strengths and virtues.
Gratifications are usually marked by the absence of feeling because we are completely engaged with the moment, and this describes the state of flow. Coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow means (1) immersing oneself in activities that invoke the highest level of absorption, (2) are a challenge, and (3) require the use of our skills and strengths.
To enter and maintain a state of flow, it’s required that:
- The task is challenging and requires skill (in other words, our strengths match the challenge)
- We concentrate
- There are clear goals
- We get immediate feedback (to measure our progress)
- We have deep, effortless involvement
- There is a sense of control (we’re relaxed, not worrisome)
- Our sense of self vanishes (this means no ego)
- Time stops (we are “one” with the activity)
When we’re engaged in an activity and experiencing flow, we’re “building psychological capital for our future.” There are no shortcuts to flow. In fact, we must identify what our signature strengths are and learn how to practice them every day. This is how we grow, this is how we flow, and this is how we lead the good life.
As noted in Authentic Happiness: “The strengths and virtues may wither during a life of taking shortcuts rather than choosing a life made full through the pursuit of gratifications.” In other words, the pleasures are easy (and are likened to taking shortcuts, if that’s all we do) while the gratifications are hard-won (and fulfilling).
The wonderful thing about flow is that we need not experience it in extraordinary situations: we can feel unified with the present moment while gardening, playing a game of softball, doing dishes, creating art, or performing a mundane task at our job.Whatever way you're walking, there's always a way to walk in joy. Click To Tweet
Pathway #3: The Meaningful Life
If we’re to lead a life of meaning, we must believe that we belong to and serve something larger than ourselves. The meaningful life adds this component to the good life: the attachment of your signature strengths to something higher, larger. This denotes a life devoted to using our signature strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness in the world.
We can serve our family, the community, politics, or religion. The goal is to connect our dots and discover our “why.” What purpose can we assign to our life situation that would make life an overall richer, fuller experience? This is a question that can bring us back home to joy, when nothing else seems to work.
- Did anything in particular here spark your interest or curiosity?
- In which area of your life could you pursue more positive emotions? Could you engage with the moment more? Or, might you assign a higher purpose to an experience?
Please share any personal practices that support your authentic happiness, insights you’ve picked up on your path, and any hopeful stories of a positive shift with me in the comments.
Pass along the empowerment; share this post with someone you wish authentic happiness for.
You’re powerful enough to create a new reality for yourself; your point of power is in the present.