Writing Happiness

I recently caught a TED talk by Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology (which basically states that psychology can be used for more than just making miserable people not-miserable, but also for making not-miserable people happy.)

In this study of happiness, Seligman has divided happiness into three categories:

Emotional Happiness – This is what we typically think of as happiness.  Laughing, spending time with friends, falling in love.  Activities that bring about an emotional reaction.

Seligman states that the one thing that happy people have in common is that they are all social.  They are in romantic relationships and have deep friendships.  BUT for those lonely, friendless folks, there are two other types of happiness that are deeper and longer lasting…

Engaging Happiness – These are those moments when life disappears around you and you’re “in the zone.”  When you’re writing a song and you look up at the clock and realize you’ve been sitting there with a guitar for 4 hours.  I think everyone can relate to those moments.

Maybe your zone is basketball.  Maybe it’s drawing, writing, knitting, game-playing, climbing, speaking, designing – maybe it’s a hobby, or maybe it’s your job.  This is much of what I was getting at with this post on doing what you were meant to be doing.

Generally these activities are absent of “emotional happiness” but the one emotion I would assign to this type of happiness is exhilaration.

Meaningful Happiness – The final type of happiness is the one with the most lasting effect.  And it’s to be part of something bigger than yourself.  To give of yourself.  To serve others.  To live a life of gratitude and gratefulness.  To live a life of meaning and purpose.

Seligman tells us that if a person has all three types of happiness, they are exponentially greater than the sum of their parts.

What occurred to me though, is how these three types of happiness show up in all kinds of places.  Take movies for example.  Don’t your favorite movies explore these three types of happiness?  Aren’t they emotionally deep – even if that emotion is laughter or excitement or romance?  Aren’t they engaging – that you disappear from the real world for an hour or two, away from all your problems?  And aren’t the very best ones meaningful – that you leave the theater questioning your own life?

So this week’s challenge is to explore these three types of happiness, not just in your life, but in your art and in your work.  Don’t just create something fun, create something engaging, create something meaningful.  These are the things that last.

You can find out more about happiness (and take lots of fun quizes) at Speligman’s website, authentichappiness.org, or watch the talk in its entirety here:


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