If you’re like me, you’ve had times of happiness and unhappiness in your life.

So I went on a quest to ask: What is Happiness? Is there a recipe? Or is it a search for the Holy Grail, hopeless and delusional?

My research led me to Dr. Martin Seligman, professor, psychologist and Director of the Positive Psychology Centre. He’s the author of 275 articles and 20 books on positive psychology such as Authentic Happiness, Flourish and Planned Optimism. And i really liked his Ted Talks on positive psychology.

Seligman says there are three kinds of Happy Lives in this world:

  • The Pleasant Life: seeking positive emotions and enjoying the pleasures in this life. Not only hedonism (pure pleasure) because this life can also be experienced with mindfulness and savouring, but people often create habits that lead to over indulgence. Similar to the Romans 2000 years ago.
  • The Good Life: Aristotle talked about this 2300 years ago and used the Greek term “Eudemonia.” This means a life of engagement and living to your highest potential. Seligman says you find your best strengths and then craft work, play, love and parenting to use those strengths. You’re often in the flow here and can be happy. Think of Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, who is also an environmentalist, musician, author, skier, runner… etc.
  • A Meaningful Life: creating a deeper sense of living for a purpose greater than themselves. Like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

Then Seligman asks: Of the three kinds of Happy Lives, which one gives the most life satisfaction. Which one do people say, I feel satisfied with this life I have lived?

And guess what? The Pleasant Life has almost no contribution to life satisfaction but the Good Life and A Meaningful Life do. And then you can add pleasure to either of these and it’s like whipped cream on a luscious apple crisp….

So what builds a life of happiness? Creating meaning in your life, experiencing positive emotions and caring for others. 

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar, says in his Ted Talks happiness is born from gratitude in the moment, slowing down and looking where you’re going. Not gratitude for everything, like violence and war. But even when we’re confronted with terrible grief or difficulty, we can rise to the moment.

So we’re back at the beginning: what is happiness for you? And you get to make choices…

Imagine yourself at the end of your life, with a few days or weeks left: Did I create a life of meaning and happiness for myself and others? Is there anything left undone that I need to complete?

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. But I’m telling you it’s worth it. –Art Williams

Listen to Susan’s 5 minute Happiness Meditation below.


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