Martin Seligman did a great talk on how to be happy. He has spent literally years researching happiness in full on clinical trials, concluding in his results that we have a great reason to be optimistic about life.
The state of psychology today may not be good enough yet, but we can improve it.
Psychology in the past.
In the past psychology was about finding out what was bad with someone, but today it’s more about fixing disorders. Through this, a science of mental illness has developed which means that we can now measure and classify mental illnesses such as depression and alcoholism.
We can look at people who are genetically vulnerable and isolate their variables by experimenting on their effects and rigorously. The end result is that we can make miserable people less miserable.
But there were three consequences.
1. By testing people in experiment ways we forgot that people make their own choices.
2. Forgot about improving the lives of normal people, you don’t have to be depressed to benefit from an improvement in your mental state. There is always room for improvement.
3. In our rush to help people in trouble, and repair their damage, it never occurred to us to create interventions to make people happier.
What is positive psychology?
Positive psychology has three aims:
*Psychology should be as concerned with strength as weakness.
*Building strength as well as fixing damage.
*Making lives of normal people fulfilling by nurturing their genius.
If you’re interested in testing your own happiness, then you can take a test. This short survey looks at all the different causations of happiness and the way the left and right brain works and interacts.
There’s a difference between happy people and those who are sad. There are a few ways, but the main way is that intrinsically happy people are all social. Extremely so. They are all in a romantic relationship with a rich repertoire of friends.
Note this isn’t the cause, it’s the end result.
There are three ways we can be happy.
1. The pleasant life – you crave as much positive emotion as possible and fill your life with activities that create this state for you. This could be physical activity such as running, or emotional such as spending time in study. Whatever floats your boat, but the commonality is that you naturally have the skills to amplify it by filling your life with as many great experiences as possible and engaging in skills such as mindfulness to amplify their effects. If you’re an introvert, this could likely be your natural state of happiness and it could be that money is a great barometer for you.
Approx 50% of people who create this state do so because of heritage, and this is a state which is not particularly modifiable.
Positive emotion habituates rapidly, so it dilutes over time.
2. A life of engagement – you have the natural ability to focus and look at things in detail and stop time meaning that you enjoy even the smallest things around you. A flower blooming on a passing meadow could be a positive source against negative emotions that others may miss.
If you want to become happier, if this is your natural state, you can spend time working on your highest strength to practice and build its intensity.
You can be a bag packer in the supermarket, but as long as you are aware of every customer interaction and making this as happy as possible, you will create happiness for yourself. And often for those around you, too.
3. A meaningful life — knowing your true highest strengths are and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you. This is a little like the bag packing example above, but instead it’s all about creating lasting change. The circumstances will be personal to you, but each exercise will have an overarching natural purpose which you feel is important. It could be relationships, learning and studying or literally spending a few minutes a day with a lonely person to improve their mood and outlook. Positive interventions.
There have been random rigorous tests in the same way we test drugs on this. When we teach people about the pleasant life they take the mindfulness skills and design a beautiful day. You savour this day to enhance the pleasures.
We use gratitude in meditation by closing your eyes and thanking someone for something they did for you who you haven’t properly thanked. In this experiment you write a 300 word testimonial and go visit them when you read the testimonial. Up to three months later, people are still happier and less depressed.
This works for couples too. Design an evening whereby both use their strengths. It’s a great way to strengthen a relationship.
You can have a pleasant life and a life of engagement at the same time. For instance an introvert who is a trader but no social life, could well be happy if they have the ability to stop flow and become totally engrossed in whatever is happening at that point in their time. For instance, they go to work and are only concerned with what is happening in that moment.
How much life satisfaction do you get? Research of thousands of people shows that the above three pursuits of pleasure. The pursuit of meaning is the strongest, engagement is a close second.
If you have pursuit and meaning combined, develop long lasting happiness.
Note: Don’t underestimate the role of health.
Not only does exercise, (which incidentally could be moderate walking, it doesn’t need to be vigorous) improve the chemical balance of our brains, whilst giving us a leisure pursuit to fill our time and allow us to appreciate the small things around us, but it also has other benefits.
If we’re healthy then our body is working optimally. Our blood is flowing and delivering all of the necessary nutrients to the right parts of our body in the right quantities. This is where massage and reflexology come in.
The role between relieving misery and achieving happiness is important. If you make someone not angry or less anxious, this doesn’t mean they will become happy. The skills of being happy and achieving the pleasant life, the good life and the meaning of life are different to the innate skills of misery.
The role of technology in your strive to be happy
Technology and design can increase happiness by increasing meaning engagement in life where people don’t necessarily have the base level internal skill set. For instance, if your natural studies involve you watching and listening to a professor, online video course can improve this percent of students success where in the past home study would have been paper bound.
As we’ve already seen, the state of happiness is linked to setting and achieving goals about which we are proud, so the successful achievement of an academic study will therefore be linked to that person’s happiness.
Likewise, if you’re more of a life-of-engagement-be-happy-kind-of-person, then researchers think building habits that tend to allow you to track the small things you see while walking will make you happier if you can then remind yourself of these in your more down moments. Camera’s on our phone are a huge deal.