Martin Seligman is the founder of positive psychology, a field that was “founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play”. In 2004 Seligman conducted a Ted Talk that discussed the study of this burgeoning field. In his talk Seligman explains that there are three different kinds of happy lives. The first being: a pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can. The second: a life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure and the third: a meaningful life, which “consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them in the service of something larger than you are.” Through his extensive research into these different types of happiness, Seligman concluded that “the pursuit of pleasure” alone cannot provide a person with lasting fulfillment; a person must also pursue a life of meaning and engagement. In fact, pursuing happiness that is derived from “short-lived” pleasures such as a win by a favorite sports team, or a nice meal, tends to be fleeting. Where as volunteering consistently, or pursuing a career that you feel passionately about through education, is more likely to provide you with a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment in the long run.
In her article “The Habits of Supremely Happy People” Kate Bratskeir states that tackling concepts as large as “meaning” may seem daunting, but she assures readers that there are many ways for people to pursue a deeper, more enduring happiness. Bratskeir lists 21 ways that people find meaning, engagement, and fulfillment in their lives. Some of these include:
1. They surround themselves with other happy people
2. They smile when they mean it
3. They cultivate resilience
4. They try to be happy
5. They are mindful of the good
6. They appreciate simple pleasures
7. They devote some of their time to giving
8. They let themselves lose track of time
9. They nix the small talk for deeper conversation
10. They spend money on other people
11. They make a point to listen
12. They uphold in-person connections
13. They look on the bright side
Most of these are pretty easy to incorporate into our daily lives–so why not make a promise to give at least one of these ways a try today? With Christmas quickly approaching I know I’ll be able to tackle #1 and #10. But for now, I’m pursuing #6 and I’m going to go appreciate the simple pleasure of eating a big piece of chocolate. Who’s with me?