Week Four: Finding Real Happiness – An Exploration of What Really Makes Us Happy and How to Get More of It. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Historically, the field of psychology looks at treating mental illness or dysfunction. Positive psychology, however, looks to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior.
Flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the state of optimal attention and immersion during an activity. Finding one's flow leads to greater happiness and sense of wellbeing.
How do you know if you are in your flow?
- You lose awareness of time (“lose yourself in something”)
- You aren’t thinking about yourself (self-consciousness disappears)
- You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts
- You have clear goals but aren’t focused on the finish line, the activity itself is the reward
- You are active, not passive (not watching TV)
- You work effortlessly, the activity is not easy but everything is clicking and seems effortless
- Balance between challenge and skill
- No worry of failure
- You want to repeat the experience
Happiness must combine both pleasure and meaning, providing both present and future gain.
The Hamburger Analogy (Tal Ben-Shahar)
(1) Bacon Double Cheeseburger - Hedonistic Pleasure - unhealthy but tasty hamburger, will bring immediate short-term pleasure but have the opposite effect on our long-term feeling of wellbeing.
(2) Tasteless Veggie Burger (the ones that taste like cardboard) - Doing everything for the long term goal, but with no short term enjoyment - might bring us negative emotions while we’re eating it but brings us long-term benefits.
(3) Eating a Healthy by Tasty Burger - finding out what things in life can bring both immediate and long-term happiness; that is, a meal that is both tasty and healthy.
Finding our Happiness:
(1) We must deal with the Past- exercise gratitude and forgiveness. Once we must become aware of what at we are feeling, we can better understand what is causing us anger, resentment, etc. By becoming aware of it, we can lessen its grip on it, accept it as it is and learn to let it go. We cannot let it go until we become aware of it and accept it.
(2) Happiness in the Present – breaking habituation, savoring experiences and using mindfulness as ways to increase happiness in the present
(3) Finding Meaning and Purpose - While the pleasant life might bring more positive emotions to one’s life, to foster a deeper more enduring happiness, we need to explore the realm of meaning. Without the application of one’s unique strengths and the development of one’s virtues towards an end bigger than one’s self, one’s potential tends to be whittled away by a mundane, inauthentic, empty pursuit of pleasure. (Martin Seligman)
More reading: NYTimes articles
Mindfulness Tools for Finding Happiness
(1) Be Present – Practice Being, rather than Doing. How? Connect the mind to the body with Mindfulness exercises.
- example of how we habitually "do" and remain disconnected to our present moment experience . . .
- text or talk on cell phones while we walk
But we can change that behavior by fully immersing ourselves in our present experience, being fully present with the sensations and the experience itself
- Washing dishes example
“Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.” – Eckhart Tolle
- Return to our birthright of happiness, as young children do, we can find great pleasure and joy in each moment
- Focus our attention away from thinking and direct it into the body, where being can be felt.
(2) Still your Mind - Suffering Comes from our Thoughts - Do Not Identify with your Story, it is not You
- Still your mind by connecting to the experience itself, not your thoughts
- Recognize your story, what story am I telling myself about my situation, experience, etc.?
- Cease creating a story
(3) Gratitude Practice –
- Focus on the Beauty that Surrounds You
- Think about what you did right each day
- Recognize all that you have to be grateful for
(4) Lovingkindness Practice - Look at yourself and others with kindness and compassion instead of reflexive criticism.
Metta Mediation Practice: (said to yourself, to others you love, to a neutral or difficult person and to all beings).
May I (You) be safe.
May I (You) be happy.
May I (You) be healthy.
May I (You) live my (your) life with ease.
These take practice, but if we consciously integrate these tools into our lives, they can have profound effects on our happiness and sense of wellbeing.