Given the amount of human interaction involved during the holiday season it may be helpful to visit the topic of happiness in an effort to better understand ourself and others. A little knowledge is a powerful thing. It can help us remain calm, cool and collected and avoid judging others when they do not react as we would hope for or expect. Martin Seligman, known as the father of positive psychology has contributed much to the field. From his research he has discovered three highly distinctive types of happiness. The differences are real and identifying them empowers us to be our better self during this holiday season.
The first type of happiness Seligman called the ‘pleasant life’ in which a person strives to surround themselves with as many pleasures as possible. Folks in this category are in a constant state of accumulating stuff such as the latest technology, clothes, furniture, cars – the list goes on and on. They are driven toward making themselves happy first and foremost. Happiness to them is showing the world what they have achieved by having newer, better or more. As you might guess, the research shows that since this type of happiness is determined by accumulating things it does not result in lasting fulfillment or happiness. Thus, the cycle continues – as they decide to purchase the next thing to make themselves happy. The sad part is that there must always be – the next thing – for them.
The second type of happiness comes from ‘engagement.’ People in this category find happiness from deep involvement with their family, friends, or their jobs or career. They want to be engaged with others and find great personal reward by doing so. In fact, they receive such positive feelings from their connections that they can become totally absorbed in a life that revolves around others as their source of happiness.
Seligman found a third type of happiness results when we live a ‘meaningful life.’ Once we discover our personal strengths we find ultimate happiness and satisfaction by applying these strengths in service to a cause bigger than ourselves. A meaningful life is more than simply accumulating things or maintaining our connections with others. This type of happiness is achieved from making a difference – a contribution – in a field or to society in general. George Bernard Shaw wrote ‘A Splendid Torch’ which explains this particular view or orientation to happiness quite well.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish, little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
The reality is that each of us has our own take on what we need to be happy. Our challenge then is to learn to accept others and their own unique perspectives when they don’t match our own. Acceptance through greater understanding is key.
Have a great few days!