“Happiness is not something ready made, it comes from your own actions,” Dalai Lama.
Happiness is a mindset – it is a daily choice put into action. While some have a greater predisposition to a more optimistic outlook, as 50% of our happiness is attributed to our genetics, the remaining 50% consists of the voluntary actions or choices we make (40%) and the final 10% is credited to external circumstances or the conditions of living. These findings further emphasize the power each of us has to take control of our overall life satisfaction by making the conscious effort to cultivate a world that inherently breeds a deep sense of fulfillment and joy.
What does happiness look like? Many of us believe we know what happiness is…you’re probably thinking, “People who smile often and just feel good the majority of the time”…but this is just brushing the surface of the multi-dimensional nature of happiness. What features actually promote long-lasting, genuine happiness? According to Martin Seligman, PhD, the pioneer and father of the positive psychology movement, there are five main components that promote long-lasting and genuine happiness:
POSITIVE EMOTIONS: As one of the more obvious layers of happiness, Dr. Seligman termed this component “The Pleasant Life,” describing anything that enhances our capacity to experience positive thoughts and feelings. This is what most of us think about when we think of happy, however, the research shows that, independent of the remaining 4 components, it minimally contributes to long-lasting life satisfaction. Good feelings often lead to better health, increased productivity at work and/or school, improve relationships, and increase feelings of optimism and hope regarding the future.
HOW: Recognize what events, circumstances, people, activities, etc. make you feel good and make sure to make time for them in your life. Many individuals have a tendency to expect the worst or immediately judge or react negatively. Notice these feelings and begin cultivating a positive mindset, hoping for the best and seeing challenging circumstances as opportunities to grow.
ENGAGEMENT: We flourish when we are fully engaged with our life and work, promoting momentum and focus, or what Dr. Seligman termed flow. The ability to create a flow of passionate immersion in an activity or task – whether it be an exciting project at work, a sporting competition, a painting you have been creating, cooking, etc. Have you ever been so absorbed and interested in what you are doing that you completely lose track of time? This heightened level of engagement is quite natural, particularly when someone is involved in an activity that not only enhances positive emotions, but is also something he or she excels at.
HOW: Identify your greatest strengths and intentionally engage in work and activities that use your innate assets, making you feel confident, valuable, and productive.
RELATIONSHIPS: We are inherently social beings and those who have more positive relationships report greater levels of happiness than those who don’t. We crave and thrive off of the love and deep connections we build with friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, or anyone else in our lives. Developing authentic, real, meaningful, and intimate relationships is a critical component of our lives and gratification, and enables us to share happiness with others. Belonging to a community provides a network of support and balance, while helping us maintain perspective.
HOW: Pay attention to the people you choose to surround yourself with. Make the distinction between healthy and damaging relationships and surround yourself with other like-minded individuals who will promote growth and add to your life.
MEANING: The strongest contributor to life satisfaction is the pursuit of meaning, or what Dr. Seligman labeled as “The meaningful life.” Devoting our time and energy to someone or something outside of ourselves. Knowing our strengths and then using them to help and serve others…when the work we accomplish is consistent with personal values and beliefs it greatly enhances our sense of purpose and encourages a higher self-confidence, as we know that our strengths are being used for the betterment of others. For instance, this could be community service, a political cause, helping family, a charity, a professional goal, etc.
HOW: Identify what you value most in this world. Meaning can be cultivated in both your personal and professional life. Place yourself in an environment where you can apply your strengths in the service of your mission.
ACCOMPLISHMENT: Having goals and ambition in life will help us achieve things that will develop a sense of accomplishment. The greater degree of effort put forth to achieve a goal, the greater the degree of satisfaction attained upon achieving it. Furthermore, its important to create realistic, short-term goals so we can continue to build more confidence and faith in our capacity to reach future, more challenging goals. Gaining a sense of achievement by successfully reaching our goals will essentially enhance self-esteem and motivate one to work harder and aim higher the next time around.
HOW: Identify your goals and continue to develop and enhance the strengths that will help you reach those goals. Know that an attitude of resilience is crucial, as you may come across setbacks – but with unrelenting perseverance, commitment, and faith, you will undoubtedly reach the outcome you were determined to achieve.
These five elements, abbreviated with the acronym PERMA, will undoubtedly shift your day-to-day lifestyle as you implement this newfound perspective and move forward on your pursuit of happiness.