My last post was about the difference between joy and happiness and how it impacts your life. Today, I want to address happiness as it relates to your work. I believe that work is the single most important thing that we do with our lives. It consumes most of our time. It is how society tells us what it thinks about our value because it is how we are paid, and it is usually what we use to show up in the world and identify ourselves.There are three dimensions to happiness. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology tells us about this by showing a progression of depth in happiness.
- The Pleasant Life: Past, Present & Future
It is important to consistently weave your past, present and future together to maintain your happiness. You have to be able to look on your past and extract from it those things that are pleasurable. Where there have been negative things, they cannot have a stronghold on you any longer. You have to be able to think constructively about negative experiences. You have to see that you survived, and you still have lots of great things that are working in your favor. You use these things to gain optimism and hope for the future. When your future feels hopeful and optimistic, you gain greater happiness in the present.
Past: To deal with the past, you must cultivate gratitude and forgiveness. Gratitude is that appreciation for all the goodness that abounds regardless of what else is going on. It is a way to tune into what is actually working well. If nothing else, you are breathing and that is a good thing! Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. You no longer let someone else dictate how you feel. You release them of the responsibilities that they may have had towards you. I know for me, one of the most difficult forms of forgiveness is forgiving myself. I am just uber hard on myself. I literally have a daily practice of forgiving myself and letting go of my own shortcomings. It is easy for me to forgive others but myself? Now, that is hard. I have had to learn humility and accept my own frailty as a human being and embrace my own humanness.
Future: When thinking about the future, always use the themes of optimism and hope to imagine what could work out well in your favor. Notice your awfulizing and project a vision of what you want into your future.
Present: As you tune into and tap into the present, practice mindfulness. Get off of automatic pilot, take a breathe, and enjoy the “nowness” of now. Focus in on the now and here. Tune into your five senses and take in all that is going on. This helps you feel happy in the moment. You plug into contentment.
In this form of living, your positive emotions tend to generate fortunate circumstances. Repeatedly, science has discovered that positive emotions promote longevity and a sense of satisfaction with life. Some assume that happiness causes positive emotions, but Seligman’s work makes us question whether it is the positive emotions that actually cause happiness. Which goes first? The horse or the cart?
For the ‘Pleasant Life,’ you aim to have as much positive emotion as possible and learn the skills to amplify positive emotion. Gratification is the measure of this form of happiness and learning how to manage past present and future helps you create this pleasant way of living.
In this happiness zone, when it comes to work, this is basically doing what you are good at or what you are qualified to do. You got that law degree and you are trudging along. You do a good job. You are satisfied. You get your paycheck and go home. You are pretty grateful. You have a good life.
- The Engaged Life:
The second form of happiness shows up in the engaged life. You know who you are, and you identify your greatest strengths and talents and craft your life around them professionally and personally.
Seligman believes that our virtues and strengths contribute to the happiness of the engaged life. Virtues are character traits that you develop that help you live in the society in a conscious way. Last week, we saw how the philosophers of old thought of happiness as character. Seligman discovered six virtues that are culturally valued globally. They are:
- wisdom & knowledge
- love & humanity
- spirituality & transcendence
Our strengths help us attain these virtues. You are born with a talent. For example, you may have been born with an innate musical ability which you can train and strengthen. But a strength is a moral trait that through effort, you can develop and learn. All my clients discover their strengths and how to leverage them. Check out Seligman’s work at www.authentichappiness.org for more on this. From working with strengths and virtues, you move into creating a meaningful life.
Seligman sees the healthy exercise and development of strengths and virtues as a key to the good life – a life in which one uses one’s “signature strengths every day in the main realms of your life to bring abundant gratification and authentic happiness.” The good life is a place of happiness, good relationships and work, and from this point, Seligman encourages people to go further to seek a meaningful life in the continual quest for happiness (Seligman 2002, p. 161).
For those in this happiness zone, you are working in your strengths. You feel pretty challenged and your values and virtues align with your work. You may work at a nonprofit and the goals of the organization align with who you are. You feel really good about your work. You look forward to getting up in the morning and going to work. This is a great place to be.
- The Meaningful Life
For the ‘Meaningful Life,’ you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than yourself self.
Meaning & Flow
When we dissociate our positive emotions from the exercise of character, it leads to negative feelings such as emptiness, depression, inauthenticity and ennui – boredom and bidding your time until you die, according to Seligman. He insists that we have to explore the realm of meaning. Just pursuing pleasure for pleasure sake is empty and until we live purposeful lives, in service of others, we do not get that deep satisfaction of the true meaning of joy and happiness.
Seligman expands on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is work in the area of “flow.” Being creative, problem-solving and helping others with our work creates happiness. Seligman also addresses altruism and kindness. Pleasure is a form of gratification, but altruism is when that gratification is extended outwards to others to benefit others.
In this zone of happiness, your work is actively solving a problem that exists in the world. You experience deep satisfaction. You know that you are making a difference. You know that you are flowing and achieving in your life-work and you have actively improved the lives of others. You have left your signature on the planet with this type of work. This is true legacy building.
Beloveds, don’t settle for a superficial pleasant life. Especially with your work, delve deep and go for a meaningful life where you are using your highest strengths and talents to be altruistic and change the world.
Each of us was designed to change the world. I am doing my part. Are you?
Amazing joyful hugs to you!