Happiness and Well-Being
"The greatest results in life are usually attained by simple means, and the exercise of ordinary qualities. The common life of every day, with its cares, necessities, and duties, affords ample opportunity for acquiring experience of the best kind; and its most beaten paths provide the true worker with abundant scope for effort and room for self-improvement. The road of human welfare lies along the old highway of steadfast well-doing; and they who are the most persistent, and work in the truest spirit, will usually be the most successful." - Self-Help by Samuel Smiles (1859) - frequently regarded as one of the first "self-help" books
This segment summarizes some of the research of Dr. Martin Seligman, and the insights of others. Dr. Seligman is one of the recognized world authorities on positive psychology and finding well being and happiness. We'll begin by reviewing basic concepts of happiness, then move to a higher level and talk about achieving well-being. With no disrespect intended, although this distinction is an important one, after that we'll proceed to refer to "happiness" rather than well-being, because that is how most people describe the state they seek in life. It is also what most people list they are looking for when conducting online searches.
Move up to a higher level...
The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better - Richard Leider
You may have seen Richard Leider on PBS. He's a gifted presenter who has dedicated his life to helping others find their purpose. I have included an important summary of some of the contents from his book below. I hope it helps you find your own purpose. He was greatly influenced by concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning.
"Purpose provides hope and resilience in times of drift and transition. Frankl wrote, 'One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment, which demands fulfillment'. We are not burdened by purpose as a sense of duty or moral obligation. We care to make a difference because we recognize that it is our reason for being here.
We seek to uncover the life we can call out own. As Joseph Campbell wrote, 'The image of a person within is not to be confined within the garments...Yet such designations do not tell what it is to be a person, they denote only the accident of geography, birth date or income. What is the core of us? What is the basic character of our being?'
This stage requires us to let go of our self-absorption and allows us to be used for a larger purpose. We might not know what our larger purpose is. However, we have decided to make a small difference, one person at a time, in the lives of others. This stage gives us glimpses of an authentic life.
When we choose to make a difference in the lives of others, we begin to perceive our own lives differently, almost immediately. The right people seem to show up and the right situations seem to present themselves as opportunities to serve others.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote, 'This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized as a mighty one... this being a force of nature, instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself into making you happy.'
It is the stage that becomes so clear that we can say it in a simple sentence. We grow and we give. We give and we get. What we give comes back to us exponentially. We perceive ourselves as ordinary people living extraordinary lives. We perceive we can make a difference every day and touch the lives of everyone we meet. Meaning is rediscovered in the day-to-day purpose moments when care trumps convenience.
Purpose keeps us present. When we rediscover the purpose moments, we tap into an endless supply of energy. Throughout life there is meaning available to us, and that life retains its meaning under any condition and until its final moment." I tell my students that "a focused student is always a better student." That's because having a focus creates a goal and goal driven people are far more likely to succeed than those who don't take control of their lives.
Authentic Happiness - Martin Seligman
My own happiness and self-help reading related to the creation of this website started with reading Martin Seligman's book, Authentic Happiness. It's the first "happiness book" I'd suggest that you read.
Dr. Martin Seligman is the Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center and Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the Penn Department of Psychology. He is also Director of the Penn Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program (MAPP). He was President of the American Psychological Association in 1998, during which one of his presidential initiatives was the promotion of Positive Psychology as a field of scientific study. He has written more than 250 scholarly publications and 20 books.
The wonderful thing about the research that Dr.Seligman, and other positive psychologists have done, is that now people don't have to slog along in the dark, trying to find their way to happiness and well-being alone. Recognized principles are now available to provide guidance and to facilitate the journey.
Dr. Seligman says that, "When well-being comes from engaging in our strengths and virtues, our lives are imbued with authenticity...When you read about strengths, you will find some that are deeply characteristic of you, whereas others are not. I call the former your "signature strengths", and one of my purposes is to distinguish these strengths from those that are less a part of you. I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living, and the deepest emotional satisfaction, comes from building and using your signatures strengths." (As the famed financier and adviser to presidents Bernard Baruch said, "Do what you do best and leave the rest to others.") "The ability to attach yourself to something larger, and the larger the entity to which you attach yourself the better, the more meaning you will add to your life."
Such meaning boils down to serving the needs of others, rather than serving yourself or doing things that are ego-driven. This can make a great contribution to your happiness and feeling of success in life. (You don't have to be someone professionally dedicated to serving the spiritual needs of others or a social worker to do this. Anyone can do it in small ways in their daily life.)
Mother Teresa was someone who attached herself to something larger than she was. She was asked once how she could do the work she and her sisters did, namely, bringing the sick and dying into their hospital from the streets of Calcutta, so they could be cleaned, treated, and die with dignity. Many of those who were brought in had lived on the streets their whole lives and had never slept in a bed. She replied that if she were doing this for herself that she could not have done it for very long, but it was only because she was "doing it for Christ", a reason that was important to her. You don't have to do something higher for religious or spiritual reasons, although you may, only for a reason that is meaningful to you.
My development of this site is intended to try to help you by providing useful information. It makes me happy that that might happen. Part of your quest is to identify what such things would be for you. It could be painting a picture for others to enjoy, helping build a home with "Habitat for Humanity", or extending a kindness to someone who needs it.
Identifying Your Own Signature Strengths
You can take a step toward identifying your own signature strengths by going to the website:
This is Penn's "Authentic Happiness" website. Look in the middle column. You will see the "VIA Survey of Character Strengths" below the halfway point down the list. It surveys twenty-four possible character strengths:
- Curiosity/Interest in the World
- Love of Learning
- Judgment/Critical Thinking/Open-Mindedness
- Ingenuity/Originality/Practical Intelligence/Street Smarts
- Social Intelligence/Personal Intelligence/Emotional Intelligence Perspective
- Value and Bravery
- Kindness and Generosity
- Loving and Allowing Oneself To Be Loved
- Fairness and Equity
- Humility and Modesty
- Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
- Gratitude, Hope/Optimism/Future-Mindedness
- Spirituality/Sense of Purpose/Faith/Religiousness
- Forgiveness and Mercy
- Playfulness and Humor,and Zest
After you finish the fairly brief test, you'll know what your own "signature strengths" are. There are no "right answers" to the survey questions. Just answer each one as honestly as you can. Otherwise, you'd only be hurting yourself and defeating the purpose.
Dr.Seligman's book contains a splendid amount of interpretive information that will provide increased guidance for you. Your signature strengths are the ones you should try to use as much as possible in your daily life. I'd also recommend that you re-take the test periodically to ascertain whether you've had any changes in your signature strengths. I've taken it twice. It described me very well.
You may also note that the "Authentic Happiness" website shows a number of other tests you can take. I would take as many of them that seem relevant to you. They are based on positive psychology research and have been designed by experts. The results can help you make more informed decisions.
When you get to the website, you will be asked to register before you can take any tests. This is merely for the Center's informational purposes. Any information you provide, and responses you give, are kept confidential.
Each one of you is unique. No one else on earth, out of the billions of people who are here, has the same combination of signature strengths, in the same proportions, that you have. These unique talents are too beautiful and meaningful to waste. Your potential happiness is too beautiful to waste too! It's your life. It can only benefit you and those you come into contact with you when you are living your best life.
Dr Seligman says, "It is important to distinguish momentary happiness from your enduring level of happiness." In other words, there is a difference between something's being pleasurable and something that provides true gratification. While eating ice cream sundaes every day, getting a promotion, making more money or winning the lottery might be produce happiness, they are not the source of long term happiness produced by gratification-producing experiences.
Into every life, a little rain, and sometimes a lot of it, may fall. No matter what you are subject to, no matter how bad it is, right now, or later in life, remember that it didn't come to stay, it came to pass. Psychological research is on your side. Recovery usually occurs within a few months. So, always keep hope alive and keep moving forward. When you get low, just remember the famous song, "Time Is On Your Side", Oh Yes It Is... In my Management lecture course, I usually accompany this with a "slip-sliding" dance I do to drive the point home, not to be simple, but to reinforce that important message.
The Hedonic Treadmill
To find happiness, positive psychology research also suggests that you not only need to identify meaningful actions you can take, but you also need to avoid placing undue reliance on actions that are not going to produce the long term happiness you seek: "Another barrier to raising your level of happiness is the hedonic (pleasure seeking) treadmill, which causes you to rapidly and inevitably adapt to good things by taking them for granted." That causes them to lose their previous importance to us. This would include getting salary increases and getting married, among many others..."When we engage in pleasures...they do not build anything for the future...Habitually choosing the easy pleasures over the gratifications may have untoward consequences. One of the major symptoms of depression is self-absorption." This is fairly observable when we see high-profile examples of certain athletes and celebrities, who often have millions of dollars, and the freedom to do just about anything they want, having drug, alcohol or behavioral problems.
Dr. Seligman is not suggesting that pleasure isn't a good thing to have in your life. He's simply saying that focusing on that alone will not make you happy. Pleasure passes. Gratification produces real and substantive support for finding long term happiness.
This ties in nicely with part of Dr. Frederick Herzberg's Motivator-Hygiene Theory. Herzberg said that if you make money, after a while you will only get used to it and will want more money, and the more you get of anything hedonic, the less long term meaning it will have for you, so satisfaction (gratification) must lie in other things - the motivators - things holding a greater substance, not in what he termed "hygiene factors", like money.
Through his research, Herzberg identified principal motivators as: Achievement, Recognition, The Work Itself, Responsibility, and Advancement. He identified primary hygiene or maintenance factors as: Company Policy and Administration, Supervision, Salary, Working Conditions, and Relationships with Co-workers. (I'll mention this theory again later to offer suggestions as to how it may be useful to you personally.) Herzberg's Harvard Business Review article "One more time: How do you motivate employees?" was published as an HBR Classic in 1986.
Some of Dr. Seligman's findings, and those of other researchers regarding the impact of pleasure seeking on happiness, follow. It's important to note that these findings are research based. They're not created from Dr. Seligman's, or other researcher's, own personal opinions, or from public opinion polls. I say this because some of them may seem to "defy logic":
· Major events, such as being fired or promoted, typically lose their impact on happiness levels in less than three months
· Wealth has a surprisingly low correlation with happiness level. Rich people are, on average, only slightly happier than poor people
· Physical attractiveness does not have much effect at all on happiness.
· Objective physical health (how healthy we actually are) is barely correlated with happiness.
· Subjective physical health, how we feel about our health, is a more important determinant of happiness.
However, both Dr. Seligman, and Dr. Sonya Lybormirsky, another noted positive psychologist who we will be visiting later, state that: "There are limits on adaptation. There is some evidence that there are certain things that we never get used to, or adapt to only very slowly. The death of a child or the death of a spouse in a car crash are examples...The family caregivers of Alzheimer's patients show deteriorating, subjective well-being over time."
Impact of Other Factors On Happiness
Money: I teach management and other business administration subjects, so it would be hardly surprising that I would view money, making it or making more of it, or generating a profit, as undesirable concepts. They aren't to Dr. Seligman and other positive psychology researchers either: "How important money is to you, more than the money itself, influences your level of happiness. Materialism seems to be counterproductive: at all levels of real income, people who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their income, and with their lives as a whole, although precisely why is a mystery."
This is a big warning. Do as well as you can financially, but don't sacrifice what's really important to do it. Make sure your life is imbued with meaning. (Tal Ben-Shahar, in Happiness, says "money pursuit is ok if it is pursued as a means to an end, such as making it possible to free up our time to do things that are personally significant to us, or it can enable us to support a cause we believe in". In such cases, the money itself is not the goal. Higher purposes are.)
(It's very easy for college students to focus their education on making money and taking programs and courses that will lead to that end. But it's also very important to obtain as broad of a liberal arts education as possible. It provides preparation for leading a more enriching life, as well as contributing to making someone a more effective practitioner in their chosen career. Serious thought should be given to taking courses for personal enhancement, and not simply limiting course selection to a prescribed program curriculum. )
Marriage: "Marriage is robustly related to happiness". But "better to be single, than unhappily married."
Social Life: "In our study of very happy people, Ed Deiner, (another important positive psychologist we'll visit later) and I found that every person, except one, in the top 10% of happiness was involved in a romantic relationship...The very happy people spend the least time alone, and the most time socializing, and they are rated highest on good relationships by themselves and also by their friends." (Being a "loner" is generally not conducive to happiness.)
Negative Emotion: "Having more than your share of misery does not mean you cannot have a lot of joy as well." ... Dr.Seligman suggests avoiding negative events and negative emotion - which I would relate to avoiding negative people too. This is good to remember throughout your life. Just because you may have problems, don't let it spill over into the rest of your life and spoil the happiness that Dr.Seligman says you can find some way every day.
Age: "Feeling on top of the world and being in the depths of despair become less common with age and experience." This is very important to remember if you are younger and get very depressed. You might think that something that has happened is "the end of the world." It isn't. Just hang in there. Sometimes what seem like ends are really new and promising beginnings we just don't recognize yet.
Through no one's fault but my own, I've have had a divorce, didn't get some jobs I interviewed for that I wanted at the time, had an auto accident that left me with a fractured sternum, broken ribs and residual neck and lower back pain, lack of personal fulfillment in some of my working life, personal relationships that ended, deaths of my parents, dear friends and high school classmates - which have accelerated as I've gotten older, and so on. Many of you have had similar situations. You can deal with such things and come out reasonably whole on the other end. But you have to take a positive attitude, be patient and get help if you need it. What you shouldn't do is cave in.
So what's important? Just keep doing the right stuff. Stay busy. Interact with others and stay positive. Do self-help reading. Get counseling and medical advice if you need it. Counselors and medical practitioners can help you or can refer you to those who can.
Change always happens. It's just a matter of when. Remember that Dr.Seligman says that most often the bad effect from an event will normally pass in a relatively short time. As Dr.Robert Schuller, the well known motivational writer counsels, "Tough times never last. Tough people do."
Never think of harming yourself in any way, and know than drugs or alcohol are never the answer. They ruin lives - and they can take them too. I've seen it first hand. I grew up in a funeral home. I saw it there, and a number of times afterward, including in my own extended family. The solution is to any problems or lack of self-esteem is in facing reality and dealing with it. You can't achieve it chemically. You can only find it by taking positive steps in your life. Try to do things that make you proud of yourself at the end of the day.
Education, Climate, Race and Gender
Dr. Seligman says he put these together because, surprisingly, none matters much to happiness. (Education may not have much of an effect on overall happiness, but it is a statistical fact that, on average, the higher level of education someone has, the more money they will make over their lifetime. Education and training provides more choices in life. That can help reduce stress and mke for a better life in many ways.)
There may also be sensible reasons to move to a new climate or location, such as places that seem to promise idyllic living like: Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, Vermont or Alaska. But remember that unless you make some changes in your life, you're going to be "the same you" when you get there - and without the support system and familiarity with an area that you have now. Moving can make a difference, but make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Don't expect it to be a panacea.
"Religious Americans are clearly less likely to abuse drugs, commit crimes, divorce, and kill themselves. They're also physically healthier and live longer. Survey data consistently show people as being somewhat happier and more satisfied with life than non-religious people." (My speculation on this is that having some type of "spiritual" support system may have to do with "never feeling truly alone", and having something to fall back on outside yourself. This could come from organized religion, "turning it over to The Lord", to God or to Allah, to "A Higher Power", to "The Universe", or through "relocating your center" through meditation.)
Dr. Seligman also says that there are changes that can be made in internal circumstances that can be very beneficial. He cautions though that if you decide to change them that none of the changes will come without real effort, but if you do change them, your level of happiness is likely to increase lastingly. (One book that can be very helpful in making changes and getting yourself on an improved path is the best seller, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Many times the ruts we find ourselves in are a result of non productive habits we want to change. Duhigg explains the process and shows you how to replace bad habit with good ones. It is a very helpful book.)
Dr Seligman suggests weighing your life up once a year. If you find you are getting short weight, change your life. You'll usually find that the solution is in your own hands. (We often have a fair amount of control over our own destiny. As a famous Pogo cartoon said, " We have met the enemy, and he is us." Whatever we feel we want to change, we should try to do it. If we can't, The Dalai Lama, in The Art of Happiness at Work, suggests that we try to re-fashion what we are doing into something that we can consider more positive, e.g, "I don't just mop floors, I create a more healthful environment that is beneficial to the users of the facility. I also have the opportunity to bring some sunshine into the lives of those I meet while I'm doing my work." Thinking like this can help re-design a job into a calling, instead of simply being "a boring job."
"To the extent that you may be dwelling in the past, and that you determine that this presages the future, you will tend to allow yourself to be a passive vessel, that does not actively change its course. Such beliefs are responsible for magnifying many people's inertia."( lacking effort to change things or "being a slug.") Don't dwell on negative things. Move along and move ahead. When a negative thought enters your head just say to yourself, "Don't go there!" Also, distract yourself as often as you need to by doing something positive.
Sometimes inertia can be caused by things that are very emotionally disturbing to us. My mother was a nurse. She counseled many people during her lifetime. Her advice: "Just do the next thing". Don't mentally overwhelm yourself. So if you feel as if you can hardly move; get your shower, then take care of your personal grooming, then unload the dishwasher. Don't think of everything, just think of the next thing. Keep moving down the track, one item at a time. This will also serve to distract you from your funk. After a while, you will sense some degree of progress, to the point where you may be able to start seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.)
The Importance of Gratitude
"Insufficient appreciation and savoring of the good events of your past, and overemphasis of the bad ones, are two culprits that undermine serenity, contentment and satisfaction...Gratitude amplifies the savoring of an appreciation of the good events gone by, and rewriting history by forgiveness which loosens the power of bad events, and can actually transform memories into good ones." (When we reflect on our good fortune, it makes it easier to absorb the shocks of life.)
"You can't hurt the perpetrators by not forgiving, but you can set yourself free by forgiving." (Remember that they are highly unlikely to be losing any sleep over things, as you might be. You are only hurting yourself.) "Physical health, particularly in cardiovascular terms, is (also) likely to be better for those who forgive, than in those who do not. And when it is followed by reconciliation, forgetting can vastly improve your relations with the person forgiven." This process can also be helped by the passage of time, which can assist in altering perspective. As the famed actor Ingrid Bergman noted relatedly, "Happiness is good health and a bad memory.")
Flow and Gratification
Flow is a concept that will be considered in more detail later when we visit the book entitled Flow by the recognized father of the concept, Mihaly (Mike) Czikszentmihalyi. Being in a "flow state means doing something meaningful and challenging, when we lose the concept of time and self. Increasing "flow states" increases gratification. "Gratification is part and parcel of right action. It cannot be derived from bodily pleasure, nor is it a state that can be chemically induced or attained by any shortcuts. It can only be had by activity consonant with a noble purpose." Seligman lists the following as components for gratification found in a state of flow:
- The task is challenging and requires skill (It also can't be too easy, or virtually impossible either, because then the challenge disappears. If I play basketball with a five year old and keep blocking his shots, that can't be a flow experience because I would derive no satisfaction from that. It would lack challenge. Alternatively, if I played "one on one" with Lebron James, that would cease to be a challenge for me too, because he'd block every shot I took. The challenge has to be fulfilling enough, but reasonably achievable.) It requires these features:
- We concentrate
- There are clear goals
- We get immediate feedback
- We have a deep sense of effortless involvement
- There is a sense of control
- Our sense of self vanishes
- Time stops (I've worked for hours sometimes, while writing this, and writing books, and can't believe where the time went, because I lost cognizance of it. You have probably have had similar experiences with things you enjoy. If you haven't, part of the happiness process is to create more flow states for yourself, as often as you can.)
Work and Personal Satisfaction
"Anyone with a proper attitude about his or her work can transform that work into a calling...The key to recrafting jobs is to make them into callings...Americans surprisingly have considerably more flow at work than in leisure time...My recipe for more flow is as follows:
- Identify your signature strengths
- Choose work that lets you use them every day
- Re-craft your present work to use your signature strengths more"
If you are an employer or manager, choose employees whose signature strengths mesh with the work they will do. Make room to allow employees to re-craft work within the bounds of your goals. (Do you remember the children's Fisher-Price workbench, where the child took a small hammer and pounded square, rectangular and round pegs into the appropriate holes? What happened when kids tried to bang the square peg into the round hole? It created a non-productive and frustrating work environment. It does the same with people on the job. Put square pegs in square holes and round pegs into round holes as much as you can. You won't have to pound the life out them to force them in. They'll slide right in. Try the same thing with yourself, and if you're an owner or manager, do it with your co-workers too.)
Authentic Happiness also contains a special section on "Why are Lawyers So Unhappy?" It is highly worthwhile. There are also sections on "Love" and on "Raising Children", as well as many other worthwhile topics.
Conclusion of Authentic Happiness
"Pleasures are momentary...Gratifications are more abiding. They are characterized by absorption, engagement and flow...The good life, in contrast is not about maximizing positive emotion, but is a life wrapped up in successfully using your signature strengths to obtain abundant and authentic gratification. The meaningful life has one additional feature: using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than you are. To live all three lives is to lead a full life."
Learned Optimism - Martin Seligman
Along with Authentic Happiness, and Flourish, a summary of which follows in the next segment, Learned Optimism (1991) is another of Dr. Seligman's most popular books.
The concept of "learned optimism" emphasizes that a sense of joy can be developed by challenging negative thoughts. Learned optimism's purpose is to reduce the occurrences of "learned helplessness".
Among a variety of positive characteristics, optimists are higher achievers, are more persistent in pursuit of goals, do better in school, age better, and have better overall health. Pessimists see themselves as the cause of bad outcomes, believe that they will be long-lasting, and that they have little control over events (effectively seeing themselves as being "snake-bitten" with a feeling of helplessness and lack of control.) Optimists see defeats as temporary and not wide spread, but limited to the particular event at hand. They view themselves as in control of situations in their life.
Dr. Seligman asks pessimists to isolate helplessness and to teach themselves to be optimists by dealing with problems in a more positive manner. He also encourages them not to take negative outcomes in life personally: "What happened was an unlucky situation (not personal), and is really just a setback (not permanent) for this one, of many, goals".
In the Journal of Selling and Sales Management, Peter Schulman of The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania examined what the effects were of applying the principles of learned optimism in business. In measuring the optimism levels of insurance salespersons, optimists sold 35 percent more. Pessimists were twice as likely to quit in the first year than optimists were. Schulman recommended testing sales candidates for optimism levels to fit them to appropriate positions. (Testing of job applicants is certainly not novel, but testing them for levels of optimism was. While Schulman suggested that candidates who needed optimism improvement should be trained in learned optimism techniques and then placed in more appropriate, non-sales positions - a wholly sensible and productive idea - it's likely that in many organizations, candidates for the job found to be pessimistic would be likely to simply be rejected. This naturally would be a great waste of potential talent that could have assisted the organization in other ways. Just because someone can't play second base, shouldn't mean that they should never be considered for the outfield.)
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being - Martin Seligman
Through further investigation, research and consideration, Dr. Seligman in Flourish says that, "happiness underexplains what we choose...that the modern ear immediately hears "happy" to mean buoyant mood, merriment, good cheer and smiling... I changed my mind about what the elements of positive psychology are and what the goal of positive psychology should be. He says now that "the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing", not happiness alone, although he includes finding happiness in his theory of well-being." They are contrasted below:
Authentic Happiness Theory
Measure: life satisfaction
Goal: increase life satisfaction
Measures: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment (achievement)
Goal: increase flourishing by increasing positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment
Well- being theory has five elements:
1. Positive Emotion: "Happiness and life satisfaction... are now demoted from being the goal of the entire theory, to being one of the factors included under the element of positive emotion
3. Meaning: Belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than the self
4. Accomplishment (Achievement): "is often pursued for its own sake, even when it brings no positive emotion, no meaning, and nothing in the way of positive relationships."
5. Positive Relationships: When asked what, in two words or fewer, positive psychology is about, Christopher Peterson" ( a University of Michigan psychology professor and one of the founders of positive psychology) replied, 'Other people.' Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up", Seligman says...we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we tested. (My book Your Unfinished LIfe: Finding Happiness and Success Through Kindness by Lawrence J. Danks appears, in its entirety, in Appendix A, at the end of these resources. Feel free to copy it for any non-commercial purpose and read it later at your leisure. I wouldn't distract your flow in reviewing this material by doing it now.)
"What is flourishing? Felicia Huppert and Timothy So of the University of Cambridge have defined and measured flourishing in each of twenty-three European Union nations. Their definition of flourishing is in the spirit of well-being theory: 'to flourish, an individual must have all the core features below and three of the six additional features':
- Positive emotions
- Engagement, interest
- Meaning, purpose
Many more details and supporting information are contained in Dr. Seligman's books, but what I've mentioned is enough to get us started for our purposes.
Thrive - Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington says there are three simple steps we can take that have dramatic effects on our well-being:
1. Get just thirty minutes more sleep than you are getting now.
The easiest way is to go to bed earlier, but you could take a short nap during the day - or a combination of both. (She calls this a "keystone habit", after Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit: Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything...success doesn't depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers." Huffington said, for her, the most powerful keystone habit was getting more sleep. After that, she said many other things became easier. This is truly an important, and encouraging, concept. You don't need to be perfect. You just need to find what some key habits would be for you to develop, and you will see subsequent improvement in other areas too.
2. Move your body: Walk, run, stretch, do yoga, dance. Just move. Anytime.
(Don't sit too long either. It's not good for cardiovascular health. Take breaks, and get up and move around. Sometimes when I'm at the computer for a while, I'll go downstairs and throw some clothes in the washer or dryer, load an unload the dishwasher or clean up in the yard for a while. Not exactly model exercise, but it's better than sitting non-stop.)
3. Introduce five minutes of meditation into your day (She provides a number of meditation techniques and benefits in the book.)
Overall, the important thing to do to be happier, and to increase well-being, is to identify the proper things to do, then take action by forming the habits to do them regularly.
Lack of Spirituality, Depression and Living A Better Life
Spirituality isn't synonymous with religion, although it certainly can be a large part of it for many. It's a broad search in ourselves to find meaning in life. What's the relationship between religion and spirituality?
While spirituality may incorporate elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, nor are they entirely distinct from one another.
Famous self-help writer Marianne Williamson, who has had four New York Times best sellers and has sold over 3,000,000 books,says that:
"The society in which we live has become inherently depressing, focusing far to often on external realities at the expense of our inner selves. A world that trivializes love, wisdom, compassion, and forgiveness is a breeding ground for psychological and emotional dysfunction. Psychic pain, like physical pain, is a symptom of a larger problem. The point is not just to numb the pain, but to deal with its cause." - "5 Questions for Marianne Williamson", Spirituality and Health
There can be many distractions to trying to live a life of happiness and well-being. The answer lies inside of us, not in externalities. It's important to look for the substance in life - things that have true meaning and things that are lasting. The answer doesn't lie in life numbing exercises like excessive drinking, drug use, obsessions with people, I-phones, texting all day, surface thinking, etc. Is there anything that's distracting you and holding you back from an improved sense of well-being? What is really important and lasting for you? Self-help reading, discussions with trusted others and counseling can all be a help in getting rid of distracters and trying to find your best self.
"Happy" - PBS Presentation
Happy is a good introduction to some of the many concepts you'll read about in this site, complete with visits from some of the big names in positive psychology. Marci Shimoff, author of Happy For No Reason: 7 Steps To Being Happy From The Inside Out was the host. A DVD of the program is available, currently by a donation to PBS, but perhaps later, will be more widely available, as often is the case. Some selections from Happy appear below:
- Psychology has moved from exclusively from helping people rid themselves of problems, and dealing with depression, to the science of positive psychology - what makes people happier. Initially, the renowned positive psychologist Ed Diener said that that concept received a chilly reception in the psychology community.
- "Flow", is the state of having clear goals that you know you want to accomplish, while forgetting yourself and your ego. The concept was developed by Mihail Csikszentmihalyi. Flow people are happier, than those who don't have as many flow states.
- The program featured a woman who was run over by a truck during an argument with her sister-in-law. She was startlingly beautiful, but her appearance was altered dramatically in the nine years of recovery she had. Her husband left her after the accident. She said, "I don't understand. I don't need to understand." What she did know though was that through the experience, she was happier in her life than she had ever been. She remarried and was enjoying life. We don't always have to understand, or get to understand, about certain things in life either. The important thing is to just keep moving ahead.
- Tim Kasser of Knox College pointed out that people today are twice as wealthy as they were fifty years ago, but the level of happiness is stagnant. Obviously, happiness isn't all about money.
- Having extrinsic and intrinsic goals was covered. Extrinsic goals are things such as: money, image, and status. Intrinsic goals are factors such as: personal growth, personal connections, and feelings of community. Those who focus on intrinsic goals are happier and less anxious.
- Happiness in various countries was featured:
Bhutan, for its emphasis on GNH - Gross National Happiness, where the government is guided to make decisions in the best interests of society, rather than focusing on making money or increasing trade.
While still a small percentage of their population, Denmark has the highest percentage in the world of people living in communal situations. They showed a group of twenty people, living in small apartments, who shared cooking, child care and property maintenance responsibilities. As one woman happily noted, they only have to take their turn cooking twice a month. Denmark has been ranked as the happiest country in the world overall. Others include Switzerland, Austria and Canada.
In Okinawa, where more people per capita live to be over a hundred than any other place in the world, the emphasis is on doing no harm to anyone, hard work and socializing. They described happiness as having lots of friends. By contrast, Japan was shown to be the developed world's unhappiest country overall, mainly because of their overemphasis on work and very long hours. (A friend who visited there on business told me that it is not uncommon for trains to be packed taking workers back to their homes, far outside the city, at 10PM.) A woman spoke of how hard her husband, in his thirties, worked and how much they valued seeing him during the few hours when he was home. She said one day when he was extremely overtired, he went to work at his job as a Quality Control Manager. He detected a defect - just one - went in to tell his boss about it, collapsed and died. The clear lesson is that many places in the world could use a lot more Okinawa in their lives and a lot less Japan.
- Helen Keller, the world famous figure who was born both blind and deaf, but learned to overcome her disabilities to become a model of intellect and social action throughout the world, said, "It may be hard to be blind, but it's worse to have no vision." I hope that this site will provide all of us with more of that.
- Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin, said that meditation can literally change the brain - for good. Virtually every self-help book on happiness supports the positive value of meditation, often including suggestions on how to do it.
- A former banker and "money man" left it all to work in Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Kolkata. He spoke of the sweetness of taking on another's burden and how important simply providing a glass of water to someone could be. He said, "Life is a loan from God. We give it back, with interest."
- Ed Diener said by doing good, "You transcend your own life and death...It is in doing things that are meaningful, play, new experiences, family and friends, and in appreciation (gratitude) that happiness is found."
The Secret to a Good Life According to the Longest Happiness Study Ever - Livestrong. com
"According to the 75-year-long Harvard Study of Adult Development, the most important predictor of true happiness and well-being is the right kind of relationships with family, friends and spouses.
Study director Dr. Robert Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard explains his team's findings: "The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. In a TED Talk from last 2016, Waldinger noted that fostering and maintaining strong relationships helped protect against mental illness, chronic disease and memory decline.
"The chronic stress of being lonely, of being unhappy, gets into the body and breaks it down over time. But the secret to well-being isn't constantly surrounding yourself with people and locking down a romantic partner. The truth is, you can be lonely in a crowd as well as in a romantic partnership in which you and your partner are emotionally distant. It's not the number of relationships, but the quality and depth of relationships that matters," Waldinger explains.
So we know strong relationships lead to health and happiness, but how do we cultivate those quality relationships? "Giving people our full, undivided attention is one of the most important things we have to offer," says Waldinger. That means disconnecting from your electronic devices when you?re in the presence of your friends and family and prioritizing interpersonal relationships over money and notoriety.
But just how in-depth is the Harvard Study of Adult Development? The Grant and Glueck study followed 724 men for three-quarters of a decade to identify the psychosocial predictors of healthy aging. The study tracked two very different groups: 456 men from inner-city Boston and 268 Harvard grads, including president John F. Kennedy. The researchers collected blood samples, conducted brain scans and analyzed self-reported surveys and actual interactions with the participants. - Erin Mosbaugh
"Who Are The People in Your Neighborhood" - Mr. Rogers
This is a movie, an hour in fifteen minutes in length, about the life of "Mr. Rogers". Fred Rogers was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church who took up the mission of helping children through his famous television series. He taught values and the importance of kindness for everyone in life. On the surface, a "Mr. Roger's movie" might sound silly, with the expectation of its being a simple collection of his tv shows or that "it's just a kids' movie". It's far from that. It is a moving, emotional and highly instructive documentary. I recommend it highly to everyone as a real guide for living and finding happiness in life. A number of scenes are truly poignant and very touching. It was a true blessing. I encourage everyone to see it. The entire audience was comprised of adults.