What is happiness? What are the elements that give us everlasting happiness? How do they work?Some feel happiness is very simple and there is no need to complicate it further by focusing too much on it, as doing so will ultimately make you feel unhappy.
However, happiness is a difficult thing to pin down, and it’s too simplistic just to smile our way to happiness.
As we grow from one stage to another in our life, happiness will mean different things, so what worked for us when we were teenagers won’t necessarily work for us now.
For example, the feeling of going to a party at 16 won’t necessarily make us ecstatic at 40.
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As I walk further towards my spiritual path, I know that lasting happiness will only come from within myself. The experiences I’ve had when younger have served their purpose and are now stored deep in my sub-conscious mind. And as such I need newer and far different experiences to invoke that feeling of well-being in me.
Martin Seligman has spent years studying happiness and answering the big questions that come with it. He has spent most of his life researching and producing theories that have established him as the leading authority on happiness.
He is called the father of positive psychology and has written many best-selling books on the topic.
In his influential 2011 book, Flourish, Seligman developed the PERMA model. In it, he proposes five essential elements that must be present in our lives for us to experience lasting well-being or happiness.
Over the years, I have learned that we can’t live a fulfilled life without them and as such I have adopted them in my life and adapted them to my way of being.
These elements are:
1) Positive Emotion/Pleasure (P)
We all need pleasure in our lives, and this is when we maximise our positive emotions while minimising the negative ones. Examples of these emotions include peace, gratitude, hope, and love.
There are little acts we do on a daily basis that invoke these positive emotions and go a long way in lessening the negative ones.
E.g., Meditating early in the morning gives me the peace I crave. Tucking in our children and listening to them say goodnight make us warmhearted.
2) Engagement (E)
When we are fully engaged in an activity that challenges us and yet excites us, we become fully focused on it, and so lose all sense of time and self.
We experience a state of Flow—this is a state of deep, effortless involvement, a term coined by the distinguished Professor of Psychology Milly Csíkszentmihályi.
The activity is usually something that we enjoy, and that makes us come alive from within. Seligman recommends we find what we are good at and what we love the most and practise it consistently.
For example, when I’m writing I lose all sense of time and space. I get this great feeling afterward that I can’t put into words. For others, it could be singing, painting, setting up a business, managing a project, or running outdoors.
3) Positive Relationships (R)
Seligman believes that within us, there is an innate need that is biologically and evolutionarily ingrained.
We crave relationships; friendships and companionship are something that we look out for almost instinctively and Positive Relationships are especially powerful because they play a role in supporting the other four components of well-being.
4) Meaning (M)
Meaning is derived from serving a cause that is bigger than us. We are all interconnected, in this universe and with each other. We all belong to something that is larger than us.
We are here to grow personally and help others grow with us. We can only do this by serving mankind. And sooner or later we will have to accept this inner call to serve.
E.g., I have seen my life turn around completely from being an ordinary, lifeless entrepreneur to one where I’m alive only because I’ve found some meaning to infuse into my life. This meaning came, the day I felt sharing my experiences through my writing, and speaking was serving others.
5) Accomplishment/Achievement (A)
Accomplishment involves the pursuit of success, winning, and achievement both as end-goals and as processes. The process is much more important though it’s easy to
fall into the ego trap where the goals become the only thing that matters.
However, we need goals and their achievements as guideposts to motivate and give us more discipline to complete the process.
E.g., Warren Buffet is one of the richest men in the world, and yet he maintains the same routine and process that he has done for so many years. He doesn’t need more money; he has never tried to get famous because of his achievements.
He just loves the process of betting on the right numbers day in, day out.
For us to have lasting happiness and the kind that involves a deep sense of well-being rather than the hedonistic pleasures that are prevalent everywhere today, we need all the five elements to be present.
When we neglect them, it is like we do not satisfy our inner needs and so will surely live an unfulfilled life. We reach the so-called midlife crisis and start asking questions about our purpose and direction in life.
We need to ask the right questions as it’s those questions that will define how we live the rest of our lives. Seligman’s PERMA model is an ideal place to start the process of carving out the big questions that will matter in your life.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”-Voltaire
However, even with all the five elements in place, I still think we need some element of failure and even despair to drive us closer to the desires of our soul.
If we do understand the painful lessons of failure and apply them in our lives, then we are challenged much more to get out of our comfort zones.
It is only in despair that we learn quickly and grow ten-fold. It is only in despair that we become excited to understand what gives us lasting happiness.
The writer is a motivational speaker and CEO of KIMO Home www.mo-issa.com