In his book “Flourish” (how could I NOT read a book with that title!), Martin E.P. Seligman, describes 5 key elements which help us to flourish:
- Experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling engaged
- Having meaning
- Experiencing accomplishment
- Having positive relationships
Let’s look at these one by one.
Experiencing positive emotions
It probably seems rather obvious – if we experience positive emotions it puts us in a happy mental state where we achieve more and enjoy live. The challenge is that life isn’t always a series of Pollyanna sunshine moments. The trick is how do we maximise positive emotions and experiences in our lives while minimising our negative ones. There are a number of ways to do this. The Stoic approach to life is one I find personally useful. Learning not to take negative behaviour by others personally is another thing that has helped me. Taking pleasure in the little things every day, whether it be the sun on the back of your neck, a favourite food or smell, stepping into a warm room on a cold day – when appreciated fully these create a positive emotional experience.
Feeling engaged means that you are doing something you enjoy. It is probably something which challenges you enough to keep you interested but doesn’t create too much stress. While you don’t have to enjoy everything you do, it is important that there are some things in your life which you find engaging. Ideally, you find at least some aspects of your job engaging, your relationships with others, your sports or hobbies. Looking forward to doing something signifies engagement. You may find that the things your are engaged with also connect to the next factor.
The happiest people are often those who have worked out what they want to do with their life, i.e. they have worked out what gives their life meaning. Some people find this easier than others. It can be useful to use different tools to try and understand what gives our lives meaning – one good place to start is by identifying what our values are.
Identifying your core values is a start. Another thing to consider is that many people find meaning in doing something that contributes to the wellbeing of those around them or to the greater good of society in general.
Taking satisfaction in the tasks we accomplish every day, big or small, contributes to a happy life. It is important to take time to congratulation yourself on the things you accomplish, whether it is landing a new account at work, making a freshly laundered bed or doing something special for a friend.
If the idea of acknowledging your accomplishments seems foreign to you, try taking five minutes at the end of the day to identify three things you achieved during the day and how you contributed to the success. I predict you will find it boosts your happiness levels.
Having Positive relationships
No one is an island. Modern society connects use with hundreds if not thousands of people every year, either in person, or more often via media such as Facebook. Having some positive relationships has been demonstrated scientifically to contribute both to happier and longer lives. I’ve emphasised the word “some” in the previous sentence because it is not healthy to expect to have positive relationships with everyone. Sometime we have fleeting negative experiences with other people. Most often these a due to other things going on in their lives – so we should not blame ourselves or dwell on it. Sometimes we meet those who have such a negative effect on us we need to minimise our contact with them. Most of the time, however, if we approach others with a positive and thoughtful attitude we will get a positive experience back.
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