We all want to lead a meaningful, fulfilling life. But a lot of the times things seem to get in the way of our wishes. From little everyday annoyances to large scale personal crises, we are forever in limbo between where we are and where we want to be.
What if there was a way to bridge the gap?
I recently watched a TED talk from 2004 where the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, talked about three different types of lives we humans can lead when it comes to our happiness levels. His talk, while incredibly informative in its own right, also provided solid tips to become more aware of the happiness stage you are in and how to move on to the next one.
Feel free to watch his talk or read my brief run-down of his presentation below.
Dr. Seligman classifies life in three stages:
- The Pleasant Life
- The Good Life
- The Meaningful Life
1. The Pleasant Life is, as you have already guessed, a life of pleasure. People who lead this kind of life know how to find things that bring them pleasure and they know how to properly experience it. It involves practicing mindfulness and savoring the simple things in life in order to fully “taste” these experiences and make them bring you happiness.
The life of pleasure is not a bad life. But the drawback is that all pleasure comes to an end and the intensity of it is not the same at the beginning of the experience (or the first time you do it) as it is near the end. Dr. Seligman draws a comparison to enjoying a cone of french vanilla ice cream: the first scoop tastes like heaven, but that feeling is largely gone by the time you are done.
2. The Good Life is a life where you take happiness to a next level. The good life is accompanied by flow. What is flow? It is that amazing feeling of being completely one with your experience. Feeling nothing but your own rhythm of creativity, dissolving into your surroundings, being intensely focused on one task and being able to do it for hours.
This feeling is akin to time stopping in its tracks and upon coming back to full awareness it is easy to feel as though hours have passed by unnoticed. Sound familiar?
All of us have experienced flow before. Some achieve it through music, some through meditation, some through sports or exercise. The good life has flow. People who lead the good life are aware of their strengths and they are able to use them to redraft their work, love and play accordingly.
3. The Meaningful Life is a life of meaning. The highest level of happiness comes from knowing exactly what your strengths are and using them to belong to something larger than yourself. It is leading a life of kindness and altruism, as philanthropy is known to provide long-lasting happiness. The meaningful life is undoubtedly the happiest, and that’s where most of us would want to land.
Which life are you leading? How do you plan to get to the next happiness level? What experiences can you create for yourself to feel fulfilled?
- Design a beautiful day
This relates to experiencing the life of pleasure. Your task is to craft a beautiful day for yourself. Pick a Saturday and fill it with activities that would make you happy. Practice mindfulness and savor each experience thoroughly. Live each moment in each cell of your body, notice the little things.
- Gratitude visit
Close your eyes. Think of a person who has had a profound effect on your life and whom you never got to properly thank for what they have done for you. Have a person in mind? Write a 300 word testimonial, describing the impact they had on you. Call them, schedule a visit, read the testimonial out loud.
The effect of giving gratitude is profound and will make your happiness reach new depths.
Volunteer at your local animal shelter or food bank. Be kind. Help others. Make your life be more than just about you. These experiences impact us profoundly and increase our happiness exponentially; they make us become better people.
As you can see the steps to begin are not difficult and easy to implement immediately. You can start small. Plan next weekend to be your weekend of pleasure where you savor each moment. Learn to smile more and pay attention to small things in life that will make you happier. Become more aware of what it is that makes you happy.
You have the power to retrain your brain, to see the world differently, to experience a truly meaningful life.