In daily life, and particularly in therapy, people question how they can increase their level of happiness. Sometimes their life has an undercurrent of discontentment and they are not entirely sure what is missing. Some are unrealistic about human emotion (perhaps unconsciously thinking certain emotions – anger, sadness, fear, etc – are bad) or, some are also missing what is right in front of them that has the potential to bring great joy. I have met people who seem to be quite content and joyful even during strenuous times, and others who struggle with resiliency. Being too far on either end of the positive-negative spectrum can be problematic. If you are too negative, you can be at a higher risk for depression. On the flip side, it is possible to be too positive, if it leads to avoidance or denial of problems. Sadness, fear and anger are not inherently bad. They can often teach us a lot about ourselves and our values, and they can be highly motivating as well, sometimes indicating we need to make a change in our lives.
Defining happiness is subjective, and it can be confused with pleasure-seeking or escapism. Casual sex, alcohol and drugs, materialism, etc. can feel great in the short term and cause significant damage in the long-term. People can fill their lives with instant gratification and still lack meaning in their life. Because of the confusion of happiness with pleasure-seeking, I have found a more useful and sustainable model in Martin Seligman’s concept of “well-being.” His PERMA framework includes five components of well being, including:
Positive emotions: Positive emotions include pleasure and enjoyment. This is what we mostly think of when we think of happiness.
Engagement: Engagement is being fully immersed in something, being absorbed in an activity we find interesting. Being engaged is to be focused, and requires concentration and effort.
Relationships: Healthy relationships add vitality, meaning, purpose, trust, stability and support. Having a thriving network of people you love and love you back adds a great sense of meaning to one’s life.
Meaning: People find meaning in their life in a variety of ways. Having a higher purpose or calling and setting out to achieve that provides a great source of meaning in one’s life. Being part of something larger than yourself and a sense of spiritual connection can be helpful.
Accomplishment: Recognizing your gifts, and then setting both small and large goals and achieving them adds greatly to an overall sense of well-being.
This is a great tool to use when examining your own level of happiness and well-being. Rather than simplifying happiness, PERMA encourages us to dig deeper and shows the many layers to a happy life of deep purpose, contentment and meaning.
For more information about this concept, or to set up an appointment, contact Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC at x 151.