Happiness is Not One Thing

In less than 5 days 3 people shared with me that they were not happy.

Neither of them described themselves as unhappy, but each were pained by the fact that they we not happy. The thing about ALL 3 of them is that each of them leave enormous impression on my heart, mind and soul each and every time I meet with them.

Each fill me with joy. With happiness.

And their proclamations made me sad.

The question that lingered for me is what is happiness, and is it what causes people to flourish in life? Is happiness a giddy, euphoric experience? Is it the feeling of triumph? Is it the deep irrepressible need to smile from ear to ear for reasons that make sense only to oneself? I turned to Martin Seligman, psychologist and author for some answers, and he shared the idea that there are the, an Engaged Life, and a Meaningful Life.

Happiness is absolutely not a simple, one-dimensional state. What I came away from my consult with Seligman's book: Flourish - A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, is that happiness can be found in the tough times, when life is hard, challenging and demanding and there is not an ounce of euphoria in the air.

PLEASANT LIFE One level of happiness is a pleasant life wherein you engage - frequently and consistently - in doing things that give you pleasure. It can make for a happy life - imagine devoting much of your time to getting quick, small doses of delight, doing things such as eating a favourite food, enjoying time with a best friend, watching a movie, going for a run, or gaming, all in the name of feeling good. Even your own experience will reveal that it’s great to indulge in things that make us feel good. Bu these moments can be fleeting and there are deeper levels of satisfaction to be had.

ENGAGED LIFE One step on from a pleasant life is what Seligman calls an engaged life. An engaged life is one where you are living in a way that cultivates your virtues and strengths. Being a person of good character, it seems, is an important part of living a more deeply fulfilling and happy life. This is a type of happiness where you live a strengths-based life, and is more likely to bring on a state of ‘flow’ which is a key concept of engagement. Specifically, there is the capacity to get completely lost and absorbed in what you are doing to the point of getting ‘in the zone’.

This type of happiness mean that you've devoted time, effort and energy to explore, discover and practice the activities that intersect with your strengths and give you the opportunity to connect into aspects of your character that take you into a zone where you feel one with yourself, and your mind, body, heart and soul find delight in a singular activity.

MEANINGFUL LIFE Finally, Seligman’s third dimension of happiness is a Meaningful Life, one that is marked by purpose and meaning.

This happiness comes from taking those virtues and strengths that make you a person of good character, [and that actually makes you like yourself] and using them in service of something bigger than yourself - something that gives purpose and meaning to your life. How can we aim for a meaningful life?

Take a moment to reflect first on your strengths and virtues - the best things about you. What are you good at? What are your natural talents? What are the virtues (such as wisdom or courage) that you have deliberately cultivated in yourself? If you're coming up blank, ask others. EVERYONE has their own strength and virtues, sometimes, we are just so very unaware of them that we are unable to put them to work for ourselves to create our own joy and happiness.

Now ask yourself this: Can you think of a cause bigger than yourself that is truly worth serving? It does not have to be big. It only needs to be SIGNIFICANT TO YOU. Ironically, it is when you put this cause at the top of your priority list, even above your own happiness, that a more enduring happiness and life satisfaction can be achieved. This is true despite the fact that our causes often bring their own challenges and struggles.

Developing your skills, talents, strengths, and tribe, and then using these in service of bringing about a better world in the way that matters most to you, is what will lead to a life filled with meaning.

Happines is not one thing and not all types of happiness are equal.

Some give us fleeing moments of pleasure, whereas others lead to a more longer-lasting, fulfilling level of happiness and satisfaction. Which type will you focus your energy on?

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