Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology researcher, Martin Seligman studied numerous "happy" people to unearth what they had in common that made them happy and what set them apart from people who scored low on the happiness scale after questioning.

He found that the "happy" people weren’t healthier or fitter, or better looking, they didnt make more money and they didnt have more good events or fewer bad events in their lives. What these happy people did have in common was that they all were far more sociable people than the "low happiness" people. Most of the happy people questioned had a rich repertoire of friends and romantic relationships. Note however that this is correlational data, not causal.

Also, he noticed that the skills of happiness were completely different from the skills for relieving misery. ie You can make a person less depressed, but this won’t make them happy – it usually would bring them to neutral unless there were enough "happy factors" going on.

Seligman came up with 3 possible "happy lives":

  1. The Pleasant Life: This is a life full of pleasure, positive experiences creating positive emotions. The pleasant life is also about developing skills to allow you to savour these positive feelings. Studies show that your ability to savour the positive in life is 50% heritable! Living a pleasant life is also not easy since we habituate and start taking things for granted which takes the pleasure out of previously pleasurable experiences.
  2. The Good Life: This is a life of engagement where you are occupied in work, love, parenting, leisure etc, successful in these fields and gain great satisfaction and happiness from these. These people are in flow. By understanding what you natural strengths are, and applying them to your work, play and relationships, you can help to create the Good Life.
  3. The Meaningful Life: Living a meaningful life consists of knowing what your highest strengths are and using them for the service of something larger than you. eg being philanthropic and altruistic.

How much do each of these 3 contribute to life satisfaction?
Research showed that the pleasures of life had almost no contribution to feeling life satisfaction. The pursuit of meaning had the strongest contribution to life satisfaction, followed by the good life of engagement.

Source: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology.html

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