I recently completed a course on research methods in psychology (yes, big nerd, I do this in my free time;) and was HAPPY to learn that I could do my final presentation – not on trauma, depression, anxiety or any of the other heavy challenges we therapists help people reckon with – but on HAPPINESS. 🙂 🙂
I did a fair amount of research and put together a presentation comparing popular media advice with rigorous research done by the father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman. What I want to share with you today is the three nuggets of wisdom that came from research out of UPenn done by Dr. Seligman and his colleagues. (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005).
Lets start off by exploring three aspects of happiness addressed in this research – pleasure, meaning and engagement. We likely all have different associations with these concepts, so lets dig in…
Pleasure, often associated with hedonism, with sensuality, and with more superficial ventures, is one aspect of happiness the researchers defined and measured in this study. Let’s define it here as doing things that feel good in the moment. How does it feel to laugh deeply, to experience a cool breeze against your skin, to eat your absolute favorite food, or to get a hug from a loved one? Mmmm, good. 😀 These things bring about a more immediate and typically short lived sense of satisfaction and positive emotion.
Meaning runs a little deeper and has more long-term ties. What makes your life meaningful? Researchers and theorists here talk about self-actualization – bringing your highest potential and your best self to light and sharing it with others. We often identify a sense of meaning and purpose in life through work, family, and creative ventures. Think of things that matter to you, that you feel are important and essential to your life, or to life in general – there’s your meaning. This one is more complex and can be harder to identify than the simple pleasure of picking your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor;)
Engagement speaks not to an upcoming change in marital status but to your feelings of engagement with life, with others and with the activities you do on a daily basis. You know those moments when you lose track of time, get immersed in a project, and feel lost in the flow? That’s engagement. Often people describe this sensation with creative projects like writing, making music, or even teaching. What makes you get lost in the moment? When do you feel in the flow? Take a moment to answer these questions right now.
Interestingly, the study found that meaning and engagement had the highest correlation with life satisfaction, and while experiences of pleasure were also connected to satisfaction, they were less so.
Worth noting here – it is common in our society to see people get lost seeking pleasure – through the endless pursuit of material gain, through addiction to sex, to drugs, to screens, to a myriad of things. However, pleasure is one things that can bring relief, and even healing, particularly if it is done in a reflective, integrated, connected way.
The study also found that people who had high levels of all three of these components of life had the highest reports of life satisfaction, and those reporting lowest on all three had the lowest life satisfaction ratings.
Here’s the take away! Meaning and engagement create the cake of a happy life and simple pleasures are the frosting. Mmmm… frosting. 😉
This week, I challenge you to look at your life through these three lenses. Ask yourself:
- Where is there meaning, pleasure and engagement in you life?
- Which of these three is lowest in your life?
- Which is highest?
Interestingly, when we talk about meaning and engagement, most of us will describe a connection to people, animals, the environment, to a certain type of study, creative project or work. So, essentially, when we find meaning and engagement we are also, quite naturally, finding ourselves IN SERVICE to one another, sharing love, talent, beauty, intelligence and more. Which brings me back to the basis of this entire blog, Reciprocal Transformation. When YOU get happy – deeply happy and deeply satisfied – the world benefits. Everybody wins! We need a bigger smiley face than this 😀
So, three simple (yet profound!) tasks for you today – how can you bring more pleasure, meaning and engagement to your life today? What can you, will you, do this week, month and year to increase, particularly the stronger correlates – meaning and engagement?
Sit down for a few minutes now and let yourself complete these trains of thought. This, like yoga, doesn’t take time as much as it gives time, for you to be clear and enjoy your life. Five minutes now could be a shift that creates much more life satisfaction down the road!
That’s all for this week, folks! Please do continue to share your thoughts, reflections and comments in the space below so we can all benefit from your wisdom. Three cheers to you and your happiness!!!
Much love, as always,
PS – Here’s the full article that outlines the research project I’ve described above, in case you’re interested! Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of happiness studies, 6(1), 25-41.