Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Achieving Your Potential with Positive Psychology - Tim's Tip for the Week - Value Happiness

A good friend of mine had just started reading  Achieve your Potential with Positive Psychology  asked me a very important question

Surely there's more to life than just being happy?

Of course he is right. Having children, helping others, producing art, overcoming a personal difficulty -these might not exactly make you happy, but surely aren't they part of the good life? As I gently pointed out to my friend, when he gets to chapter 3 he will find that Positive Psychology agrees with him. Martin Seligman thinks the good life is PERMA (positive emotions, engagement , relationships, meaning and achievement). I think this a good start, and argue that PERMA needs to be informed by wisdom.  So thinking that there is more to life than happiness is no reason at all to reject Positive Psychology.

So why does Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology begin with two chapters on happiness? One reason is that there are now a number of well-researched simple techniques that we know can increase happiness.  So you can expect to increase happiness fairly quickly by applying what you learn in  the first chapters.  A second reason is that although there is more to the good life than just happiness, happiness has positive spin-offs.  The key message is

Happiness is worth it, not just for itself, but the good things that come with it.

That's right.  Being happy doesn't just feel good, it helps us be more creative, more altruistic, live longer, have better health, have better friendships - in other words, it helps with most of the other elements of the good life.  There are sound, replicated experiments which demonstrate this. One striking example is the nun's study which found that nuns who recorded positive emotions in their diaries lived on average nine years longer than those who were least happy.

My friend's confusion came about through thinking you have a choice to make - happiness or the other good things in life. The research suggests just the opposite.  Become happier and you will also tend towards naturally getting the other things too.

Of course this doesn't mean that you should just value happiness.  Positive Psychologists would recommend you try to clarify your values and take steps to satisfy them, including helping others , making the world a better place and so on.  The suprising finding, the added value of scientific research, is that if you value happiness, and start to be happier, you'll find achieving these other values is a bit easier.

So the best way to look at it is  not happiness or the good life. It's not quite even happiness as part of the good life, though that's closer to the truth. It's happiness as a part and a sound foundation for good life.

Have a wonder-full day


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