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Guest Post: The Science of Authentic Happiness

I feel so very fortunate to be able to share an amazing guest post with you all from a wonderful friend.  Carol is one half of the sister duo that breathed peaceful life into a website called Ahh The Simple Life.  Visit them to read more about health, love, ecology and, best of all…simplicity. For now, please enjoy learning about the Science of Authentic Happiness!

 

Happiness baby

Happiness
By Pietro Zanarini under a Flickr Creative Commons license

All of us share a desire to achieve freer, happier, more meaningful, and more productive lives. That is what is driving the trend towards the simple living lifestyle. Fortunately, the science of positive psychology is in full bloom, ready to help us achieve that goal.

The Science

Positive psychology emerged at the beginning of the new millennium as a movement within psychology and was aimed at enhancing human strengths and optimal human functioning. It was officially launched in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi were the co-editors of the millennial issue of the American Psychologist, an issue devoted entirely to the topic of positive psychology. In their introduction, they state, “We predict that positive psychology in this new century will come to understand and build those factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish.”

Here is a description of the domain of positive psychology, from the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania:

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

Its Teachings

happiness

The Authentic Happiness Map depicts core themes of positive psychology and their relationships one to the other. It shows three “routes,” all starting at Mindfulness and ending at Happiness. The three routes are color-coded: teal, purple, and gold.

I’ll explain the three routes further on, but first let’s look at the end and start points.

Happiness

happiness kitten

Happiness
By Marina del Castell under a Flickr Creative Commons license

Happiness, as defined by positive psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, is what he calls “Authentic Happiness.” It’s also the subject of his book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. Seligman and Ed Royzman co-authored a newsletter in which they explain the three traditional theories of happiness, and their own Authentic Happiness theory:

Where does our Authentic Happiness (Seligman, 2003) theory stand with respect to these three theoretical traditions? Our theory holds that there are three distinct kinds of happiness: the Pleasant Life (pleasures), the Good Life (engagement), and the Meaningful Life. The first two are subjective, but the third is at least partly objective and lodges in belonging to and serving what is larger and more worthwhile than the just the self’s pleasures and desires. In this way, Authentic Happiness synthesizes all three traditions: The Pleasant Life is about happiness in Hedonism’s sense. The Good Life is about happiness in Desire’s sense, and the Meaningful Life is about happiness in Objective List’s sense. To top it off, Authentic Happiness further allows for the “Full Life,” a life that satisfies all three criteria of happiness.

The video below provides a more comprehensive overview.

For more information visit http://www.happinessanditscauses.com.au/.

Also check out the Happy & Well blog http://www.happyandwell.com.au/.

 

Mindfulness

mindfulness

Every path to happiness begins at mindfulness. When you think about it for a moment, how could it be otherwise? We must first become aware of something before we can do anything at all with it.

  • We must be aware that we feel gratitude, before our experience of gratitude can lead us to happiness. (This is the teal route.)
  • We must be aware of how other people feel, before we can first empathize with them and then be moved to practice altruism. (This is the purple route.)
  • We must be in tune with our own feelings, before we can first experience self-compassion and then be motivated to practice care of self. (This is the gold route.)

So what is mindfulness?

mindfullness puppy

Mindful Tillie
Photo by Michele O’Connor

Mindfulness is a way to live your life as if it really mattered. And that involves being in the present moment with open-hearted presence and kindness toward yourself.

— Jon Kabat-Zinn

This definition of mindfulness is from the Action for Happiness website:

Mindfulness is often defined as “the state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present.” Two critical elements of mindfulness are that:

  • It is intentional (i.e. we are consciously doing it); and
  • We are accepting, rather than judging, of what we notice.

In other words, mindfulness is “openly experiencing what is there.”

To learn more about mindfulness —  why it matters, and how to practice it, I invite you to read Mindfulness Matters.

The Teal Path: Gratitude

gratitude

Photo by Steve Maraboli under a Flickr Creative Commons license

It may sound corny, but the research clearly demonstrates that you would be happier if you cultivated an “attitude of gratitude.”

― Sonja Lyubomirsky

At the University of California at Riverside, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky is studying human happiness. See Eight Ways Gratitude Boosts Happiness  from her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. In another segment of her book, Lyubomirsky offers suggestions on How to Practice Gratitude. One of these is  a “gratitude journal.” “Ponder the three to five things for which you are currently grateful, from the mundane (your dryer is fixed, your flowers are finally in bloom, your husband remembered to stop by the store) to the magnificent (your child’s first steps, the beauty of the sky at night).”

Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, has demonstrated that gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. Check out his article Why Gratitude Is Good for details.

A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L) provides education and support for the practice of grateful living as a global ethic, inspired by the teachings of Br. David Steindl-Rast and colleagues.  Gratefulness – the full response to a given moment and all it contains – is a universal practice that fosters personal transformation, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational respect, nonviolent conflict resolution, and ecological sustainability.

The Purple Path: Kindness to Others

Click on image below to read The Biology of Kindness: How It Makes Us Happier and Healthier  By Maia Szalavitz.

gratitude kids

Mark Edward Atkinson / Getty Images

The DALAI LAMA wrote an article titled Compassion Makes You Happy, published July 6, 2010 on Heal Your Life. Here is an excerpt from that article:

A compassionate attitude helps you communicate easily with fellow human beings. As a result, you make more genuine friends; the atmosphere is more positive, which gives you inner strength. This inner strength helps you voluntarily concern yourself with others, instead of just thinking about your own self.

Scientific research has shown that those individuals who often use words such as me, I and mine face a greater risk of a heart attack. If one always thinks of oneself, one’s thinking becomes very narrow; even a small problem appears very significant and unbearable.

When we think of others, our minds widen, and within that large space, even big personal problems may appear insignificant. This, according to me, makes all the difference.

The recent proliferation of kindness organizations, movements, and events is enough to make your heart sing! Here are a few:

The Gold Path: Kindness to Oneself

kindness

 

Photo by Hartwig HKD under a Flickr Creative Commons license

For someone to develop genuine compassion towards others,
first he or she must have a basis upon which to cultivate compassion,
and that basis is the ability to connect to one’s own feelings and to care for one’s own welfare…
Caring for others requires caring for oneself.
—Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

“The three key components of self-compassion are self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and balanced, mindful awareness. Kindness opens our hearts to suffering, so we can give ourselves what we need. Common humanity opens us to others, so that we know we aren’t alone. Mindfulness opens us to the present moment, so we can accept our experience with greater ease. Together they comprise a state of warm, connected, presence during difficult moments in our lives.”
—  USCD Center for Mindfulness

Do you know how to love yourself? First of all, you need to understand that love is a verb — an action. “Take a moment to think about what it means to love a baby,” says Margaret Paul, Ph.D. “Not only do you feel love for a baby — you act on it. Now imagine that you have a baby inside you who needs all these same things.” Read more about mothering yourself.

Kristin Neff, leading expert on self-compassion, says that self-compassion has all the benefits of self-esteem, but without the drawbacks. Writing for Psychology Today, she cautions us that self-esteem can have a dark side: “Most people … feel compelled to create what psychologists call a “self-enhancement bias” — puffing ourselves up and putting others down so that we can feel superior in comparison. However, this constant need to feel better than our fellow human beings leads to a sense of isolation and separation.” How do we get off this treadmill, this constant need to feel better than others so that we can feel better about ourselves? In this TEDTalk video, Dr. Neff explains that self-compassion is the answer.

If you would like to learn more about the powerful benefits of self-compassion, I suggest this post.

Be Happy!

In this very brief introduction to the science of positive psychology, I’ve tried to convince you of its value. My hope is that you will take some of these ideas to heart, put some of them into action, and discover that they help.

I’ve been studying this topic for a while now, and written a number of Ahh The Simple Life posts about it. The writing has helped me to assimilate and accommodate the knowledge. You are most welcome to join me on this journey.

Ahh The Simple Life was created by sisters, Carol and Michele. Carol is passionate about food, recipes, and cooking. Michele is passionate about decorating and everything else to do with the home. Like so many others, they decided life had become WAY too complicated. In response, their blog was designed to help you (and them) find ways to simplify, simplify, simplify. Ahh, don’t you feel better already?

Want to learn more? Be sure to connect with them on any of their social media sites: