Let’s start with what happiness is NOT.
It is not about feeling good ALL of the time. It is not about living a fantastical life where nothing ever goes wrong.
Think about your best moments and memories. Would you describe what you feel as happiness in those moments? It feels great, right? But, nobody feels that intensely incredible all of the time. Trying to pursue that constant euphoric feeling can derail your happiness. It seems obvious to me now but it wasn’t so obvious when I first started studying Positive Psychology.
One of the first and most important lessons that I learned was that it is more than those precious moments when we experience joy. I had often felt that I was missing something because I didn’t feel that joyful all of the time. It was a relief to learn that true happiness is much more than chasing down that high.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, happiness is a state of well-being and contentment.
In her book, The How of Happiness , Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky describes it as “the experience of joy, contentment or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.” Dr. Lyubomirsky talks about happiness having two components. The first component involves the experience of positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, affection, and love. Happier people have more positive emotions and experience fewer negative emotions.
But, simply experiencing positive emotions is not enough. You can experience a lot of happy emotions and still not be a happy person. This is why the second component is just as important. Happiness is also having a sense of satisfaction with your life and feeling content with how you are progressing towards your goals in life.
Dr. Martin Seligman, considered to be the father of Positive Psychology, concludes that happiness has three dimensions that can be cultivated. They are: the Pleasant Life, the Good Life and the Meaningful Life.
Dr. Seligman created the PERMA Model which provides us with the elements needed for lasting well-being.
The PERMA Model
Positive Emotions – feeling good, positive emotions, optimism, pleasure, and enjoyment.
Engagement – fulfilling work, interesting hobbies, “flow”
Relationships – social connections, love, intimacy, emotional and physical interaction.
Meaning – having a purpose, finding meaning in life.
Accomplishments – ambition, realistic goals, important achievements, pride in yourself.
When we look at the PERMA model, we can think of it as a combination of all of these elements. Seeking out positive emotions and cultivating optimism. Finding work and passions that have the right balance of challenge and interest so we are fully engaged and can feel the state of “flow”. Developing strong social connections and loving relationships with yourself and others. Living a meaningful and purposeful life aligned with your values. Setting realistic goals and pursuing them. Feeling a sense of pride for your achievements.
The SPIRE Model
My favorite model is from Wholebeing Positive Psychology. The SPIRE Model of whole-being happiness was developed by Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, Dr. Maria Sirois, and Megan McDonough. According to Dr. Ben Shahar, to reach happiness, you need to look at the whole person. They created SPIRE to address the different components of the whole person. They identified those five components as Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational, and Emotional.
Spiritual – Leading a meaningful life and mindfully savoring the present.
Physical – Caring for the body and tapping into the mind/body connection.
Intellectual – Engaging in deep learning and opening to experience.
Relational – Nurturing a constructive relationship with self and others.
Emotional – Feeling all emotions. Reaching towards resilience and optimism.
All of these components are critical for a happy life. When we ignore one component, the whole-being is affected. When one component is cultivated, the whole-being benefits because these five elements are intimately related. The SPIRE model gives us paths and action steps that we can take to improve our overall wellbeing and happiness.
Do you see some consistent themes in these definitions? I do. I like to compare happiness to the spectrum of colors in a rainbow. (thanks to Tal for that visual) All the colors are equally as important to the exquisite beauty of the rainbow. If you took one away it just wouldn’t be the same. It is a combination of all these elements that make us human beings.
It’s being present in the moment and living a purposeful life. It’s caring for and enjoying this incredible human body; understanding that the mind and body are interconnected. It is tapping into our innate curiosity and embracing a life long journey of learning. It’s cultivating healthy relationships, starting with ourselves, and connecting with others on an intimate level. And, it is truly feeling all emotions while recognizing they are temporary. We experience the entire range of emotions, acknowledge them, and move towards grounded optimism.
Happiness is much more complex than a single event. It is a journey with many different pathways. Enjoy the ride, my friends.
inSPIREd Happier Center
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