There are several roads to becoming happier. You can focus on increasing positive feelings, for example, by engaging in more pleasant activities. You can clear up negative emotions about the past.
You can make a concerted effort to increase your positive thinking, and develop an optimistic attitude. A simple step such as becoming more mindful of the small yet positive events that happen daily can contribute greatly to feeling happier.
Research indicates that there are five key strengths that lead to experiencing more happiness:
- The ability to love and be loved
There’s evidence to suggest that counting your blessings, using your strengths regularly, and expressing gratitude can increase happiness (Seligman, 2004).
There are definite steps and actions that one can take to feel happier. But the question is, “Is happiness what one should aim for? Or, is the real goal having a good life?”
The pursuit of pleasure has not always led to a good life, and history is full of examples. Asking “How can I be happy?” is the wrong question because it ignores the distinctions between pleasure, gratification and fulfillment. A truly good life must have more than just pleasure and happiness. It should also include gratification and meaning.
It was Aristotle who asked, “What is the good life?”
Getting more gratification into your life is more difficult than getting more pleasure. It also involves some delaying of gratification and happiness, and building toleration for discomfort, fatigue, and sometimes pain. But people who take the time and effort to use their strengths to build satisfaction and meaning into their lives have greater ratings of happiness, life satisfaction, and live longer.
Knowing and Using Your Strengths
To obtain more gratification, you must identify and use your strengths. There are a number of online assessments. Two that are recommended are one sponsored by the leader of Positive Psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman, at www.authentichappiness.org, the other on the Gallup Organization site at www.gallup.com.
6 Basic Virtues
Are there universal strengths and virtues that contribute to having a good life? Some researchers set out to catalogue which strengths and virtues appear over history to be basic and essential – not an easy task, given the diversity of human cultures. The results were shocking in their simplicity and commonality.
A review of the literature of all the major religions and philosophies of the last 3,000 years reveals the same six major virtues. Although there was one culture — the Ik, who apparently do not value kindness — there is almost universal agreement on six virtues throughout the world and throughout time.
Here are the six universal virtues along with their components (from Seligman, Authentic Happiness, 2002):
Wisdom and knowledge
10. Valor and Bravery
11. Perseverance/ Industry/ Diligence
12. Integrity/ Genuineness/ Honesty
14. Prudence/ Discretion/ Caution
15. Humility and Modesty
Love and humanity
16. Kindness and Generosity
17. Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved
Spirituality and transcendence
18. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
20. Hope/ Optimism/ Future-Mindedness
21. Spirituality/ Sense of Purpose/ Faith/ Religiousness
22. Forgiveness and Mercy
23. Playfulness and Humor
24. Zest/ Passion/ Enthusiasm
Moving from a Pleasant Life to the Good Life
Building strengths and virtues and using them in daily life means making choices. Knowing which virtues and strengths to build on is an important step towards becoming more authentic and happy. It is not only about learning, training and conditioning, but also about discovery, creation and ownership.
The pleasant life is all about pursuing positive feelings and learning the skills to amplify those good emotions. Pleasures can be increase by savoring the little moments and by becoming more mindful.
Gratifications, on the other hand, are more difficult. They are characterized by absorption, engagement and being in the flow or “the zone.” They may not have any positive emotions attached to them. Gratifications come about through the exercise of your strengths and virtues.
The good life consists in using your strengths as frequently as possible to obtain authentic happiness and gratification. It is not about maximizing positive emotions; on the contrary, this may involve less than pleasant feelings. But using your strengths in the service of something larger than yourself leads to a truly meaningful and good life.
Working with your personal life coach can help you to identify your strengths and develop an action learning plan. You can have a happier, more meaningful life– one that is not only pleasant but that is a genuinely good life.