Philosophers and artists have tried for centuries to answer that question. Maybe that is because the definition varies so widely from person to person and from place to place. But did you know that there are conditions that can be met, even given a wide variety of personal preferences, that are more likely to result in people reporting that they are happy?
|"Happiness" by Eric Castro. Used under CC license.|
Positive psychology is a movement in the study of mental health that sets out to explore what makes life worth living, what makes for good communities, and what it means to have a happy life. Positive psychology, as a movement in psychology, is only about 15 years old.
The best idea we have is that happiness occurs when five basic principles are met. They are: 1)Positive emotions, 2) Engagement, 3) Relationships, 4) Meaning, and 5) Accomplishment. This is often referred to by the acronym PERMA.
Here is a brief look at the individual parts of the PERMA model of happiness.
1. Positive emotions
The emotions we are experiencing at a given moment can color our perceptions of our life in general. Positive emotions include feelings like joy, enjoyment, pride, tranquility, excitement, anticipation and curiosity.
It may seem difficult to simply feel more positive emotions, but this depends on how you conceptualize the task. While we can't just flip the "positive emotions" switch inside of us, there are certain behaviors and actions which we know will give us positive feelings. Being able to do those behaviors and actions means that we can increase our authentic experience of positive emotions.
Here, the idea of "being engaged" in something means having just enough challenge to be interesting, but not to much as to be frustrating. There is no limit to the number of activities that can produce that feeling of engagement. What is important is that the activity activate a sense of "flow."
Flow is the state of being absorbed in a project or task. It is often characterized as a state of full immersion in an activity.This is the mental state you are in when you are doing something you enjoy, and you look up at the clock and realize it's several hours later than you thought.
Humans are social animals. We crave intimacy with other humans on multiple levels: Friends, acquaintances, passing socialization and close partnerships. People who report feeling more connected to others report higher levels of happiness.
Just as it is important to build and maintain relationships, it is also important to be able to differentiate between healthy relationships and toxic ones. Relationships that are codependent, one-sided, or abusive are detrimental to our health. Learning how to be choosy in relationships is an important skill for happiness.
Knowing that we are a part of something larger than ourselves, and being able to participate in the process of discovery of what that something might be, is an essential part of happiness. It may sound excessively academic, but the discovery of meaning in life is one of the most significant parts of our happiness.
In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes: "Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked." "In other words, part of the process of finding meaning in our lives is understanding that we are finding meaning at all.
Being able to look at something and think, "I did that" is the basic sense of accomplishment. Setting a goal and achieving it makes us feel good about ourselves, and feeling pride in the things we do can make us happy. Successes in the past make us feel more optimistic about the possibility of future success. Part of being present with our accomplishments means remembering the times in the past when we accomplished something.
But accomplishment is not just about success. Setting goals and not succeeding gives us an opportunity to develop resiliency. Some theorists have proposed that resiliency is one of the most significant predictors of success and happiness in life.
Flourish, Martin Seligman.
The Happiness Project, Grethen Rubin
Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Can Happiness be Taught?. Daedalus journal, Spring 2004