Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do ar ei harmony. Gandhi

The Happiness Formula

Generally speaking, most of us associate psychology and counseling with problem solving. While beginning therapists are cautioned against advice–giving, the assumption is that counselors exist to help fix problems and mend lives. Why else would a person seek help if not to correct some aspect of our life?

Reasonable enough, perhaps, but Dr. Martin Seligman puts an interesting spin on a therapist’s role. With some degree of both humility and chagrin, he admitted, “I’ve spent most of my live helping my clients feel less angry, or less sad, or perhaps less anxious. But I never thought about what they could be doing, and what I could be facilitating with them, to be more happy.”

This has led Seligman to examine the characteristics of a happy life, which he breaks into three categories or forms of involvement as follows:

The Pleasured Life

Seligman concedes that there is nothing wrong with enjoying life. Assuming the absence of addiction or compulsive behavior, appreciating fine wine, a beautiful home, a striking wardrobe, and stimulating travel are all very pleasurable pursuits. Would a golfer be excited to play a round at Augusta National, the home of the annual Masters’ Tournament? Of course. If he/she were to play it every day for a week, would the seventh round be as thrilling as the first? Almost certainly not. Pleasure fades as novelty diminishes.

The Good Life

Seligman describes the “good life” as when we are immersed in an activity that we love. It is when “time stands still.“ A gardener can spend several enjoyable hours weeding, planting and trimming on a sunny spring day. A chess player can happily await the next move from an Internet partner who is similarly deep into the board from ten thousand miles away. And college profs can teach for hours without fatigue as they can imagine and see the gears turning in the minds of their eager students. The “good life” is more rewarding than the pleasured life,” according to Seligman.

The Meaningful Life

But, according to Seligman, the cherry on the top of the “happiness sundae” is to be found in finding meaning and human benefit from our individual activities. In this author’s view, maximum satisfaction occurs when the individual can blend the “good life” with the “meaningful life.” As in the earlier examples, the gardener’s enjoyment of her planting is enhanced as she plans to donate her produce to poor families. The chess player’s passion for the game is more gratifying if she can share her skill with a child as she envisions the development of the youngster’s capacity for logic and problem solving. And the professor’s joy in sharing learned concepts is amplified as he pictures how future clients’ lives will be. enriched

Readers’ Homework: Problem solving is a daily part of our lives, but the pursuit of happiness should be as well.

Question: When you are not fixing or solving things, how much time is spent in seeking pleasure? How much is invested in what serves as your “good life?” And what is the “meaningful life” within your life?

Can you find some balance in your “happy life” between pleasure, good activity, and meaningful accomplishment? Sometimes happiness is a feeling; sometimes it’s a decision.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. Marcus Aurelius