In an effort to better define and measure true, authentic happiness, we can look at three “kinds of happiness” studied by Positive Psychology experts.
“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, 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 work to incorporate each of these elements into our lives, not only will authentic happiness be possible for us, but our ability to experience genuine happiness on a consistent basis will grow stronger.
Over time and with practice, the joy and peace we so long for can become a reality for us every day, in any given moment and situation.
The Pleasant Life
Leading “The 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.
Positive Psychology identifies ten classified positive emotions:
The pleasant life, as Dr. Seligman would describe 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.
- Present: 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. The positive change we seek is what leads us to the pursuit of what’s known as “The Good Life.”
The Good Life
On this path to happiness we engage in activities called gratifications. Leading the good life means we seek out gratifications, which 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 totally immersed in the moment, and this describes the state of flow. Coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow means immersing oneself in activities that invoke the highest level of absorption, are a challenge, and require the use of our skills and strengths.
The requirements of flow are:
- The task is challenging and requires skill (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 (no ego)
- Time stops (we are one with the activity)
When we’re engaged in an activity and experiencing flow, we are “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 likened to taking shortcuts) while the gratifications are hard-won (and fulfilling).
The Meaningful Life
If we are to lead a life of meaning, we must believe that we belong to and serve something larger than ourselves.
As Dr. Seligman says in Authentic Happiness, “A meaningful life adds one more component to the good life—the attachment of your signature strengths to something larger.” This denotes a life devoted to using our signature strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness.
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 get us back to happy, when nothing else seems to work.
- What are your thoughts on these three paths to authentic happiness?
- Did anything in particular spark your interest or curiosity?
- Have you studied (and loved) any Positive Psychology concepts?
Please share your thoughts, personal practices that help you aim happy, lessons learned from your own path to joy, and any stories of a positive shift with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone who is intent on living a happy life.
Whatever way you’re walking, there’s always a way to walk in joy.