Three Paths To Happiness

An emerging new field called positive psychology focuses on what makes us happy. Researchers in this field describe three paths to happiness: positive feelings, engaging activities, and a sense of meaning and purpose outside of one’s self.

If you seek out activities that boost positive feelings, fully absorb your attention, and connect you to a higher purpose, you will be happier.  If you commit to increasing your activities in all three areas, you’ll hit the happiness jackpot!

CREATING POSITIVE FEELINGS

Frequent feelings of joy, contentment, interest, curiosity, delight, and peace are at the heart of true happiness. All people—including happy people—have negative feelings. But happy people have positive feelings more often than people who are usually dissatisfied.

Building positive feelings into everyday life is actually easier than most people think, especially if you make it a goal. Hug your dog, hold the door open for someone, thank your co-worker for his or her help, make a snack for someone you love, sing along with the radio, or savor a cup of tea. If you create more positive feelings in your everyday life, no matter how brief they are, you will be happier both in the moment and over time.

PAYING ATTENTION

Activities that create happiness don’t have to be all warm and cozy. In fact, they can be hard. What matters is that the activity gets your full attention, so much so that you lose track of what’s going on around you.  Examples include solving a difficult problem at work, fixing your faucet, or learning to drive a van. As long as your attention is absorbed and you have a sense of accomplishment when you’re finished, your level of happiness will be boosted.

A psychologist at the University of Chicago calls engagement in an activity that requires your full attention a “flow” experience. The more flow experiences you have in your life, the happier you will be.

Flow activities hit that sweet spot between easy and very hard.  They require just enough skill to keep you paying attention, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed or so little that you can do it without thinking (like watching TV). Learn to tango, practice a musical instrument, or try a new brain-boosting computer game. Having such experiences in your life twice a week is great. If you can do them every day, even better!

SEEKING MEANING AND PURPOSE

A third path to happiness involves finding something outside of yourself that really matters to you.  Tending a community garden, serving at your local soup kitchen, tutoring at-risk kids, and attending religious services are some of the many ways to create a sense of meaning and purpose in life. These activities might happen outside of the workplace or as a part of your work.  Either way, the more that you offer yourself and your time to do meaningful things, the happier you will become.