Most people go through life battling feelings of mediocrity or depression. For others perhaps life may posit a satisfactory level of contentment. Yet genuine wholehearted happiness, the kind that makes you want to leap out of bed every morning and take on challenges by their horns, remains a distant dream for humanity. Hollywood star Jim Carrey once said, “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.” True happiness comes from within, a serene quality of positive attitude and acceptance that remains unchanged at the face of external turbulence. As one of the greatest writers of our times, Haruki Murakami,wrote, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is not.”
Ever since its inception, psychology has been a medium of treating mental illness, curing people of disorders and targeting only deficits. But the mere absence of disorders and diseases do not make for flourishing, thriving lives. To be able to scale the depths of your potential and dream big, you have to able to experience full blown happiness and joy on a regular basis. In his paper, “A Balanced Psychology And A Full Life,” positive psychologist Martin Seligman scientifically deconstructs the components of happiness and identifies three specific, no fail, routes that people can take to feeling happy.
Increasing Positive Emotion
This is the easiest and most obvious route to increasing happiness. People feel happy about their past by cultivating gratification or forgiveness. They feel happy about their present by savouring circumstances. They feel happy about the future by building on hope and optimism. But what comes easy won’t last and what will last won’t come easy. This is not long term happiness. If you are feeling low then indulging in activities like shopping, going out with friends or eating a delicious snack will immediately increase positive emotions. This route to happiness is rewarding, but short lived. The individual will exist in a bubble for a while. The only viable conclusion to positive affect is negative affect. Once the effects of positivity inducing actions have worn off, it is back to square one.
Pursuit of Gratification
The second route to happiness is the pursuit of gratification. By engaging and absorbing in interesting tasks and hobbies, it leaves little opportunity for negative affectivity. Activities that demand our time and attention fall under this category. It can be reading a book, teaching a child, dancing or listening to music. Pursuit of gratification is fundamentally different from engaging in positive emotions because many a time being involved in gratifying tasks need not necessarily mean experiencing positive emotions. For example a runner training for a marathon will feel gruelling pain, hunger, deprivation and exhaustion. Yet the successful completion of the marathon will yield feelings of utter satisfaction and fulfilment.
This fulfilment enjoys long lasting positive affectivity, unlike the fickle span of the first route to happiness-increasing positive emotions. Several short cuts lead the way to positive engagement. An ice cream, a good movie or a massage will instantly make us happy. But this happiness is equally short lived. No short cuts exist for achieving happiness via gratification. It calls for the individual to draw on character strengths such as creativity, perseverance, penance, humour and appreciation of art and beauty.
The Permanent Route To Happiness: An Antidote to the “Fidgeting Until We Die” Syndrome
Though happiness achieved through the pursuit of gratification is authentic, it does not involve anything larger than the self and therein lies its vulnerability. The pursuit of gratifications involves deploying our strengths. This third, and ultimate, route to happiness comes from using these strengths to belong to and in the service of something larger than ourselves. Securing ourselves in the pursuit of knowledge, goodness, family, community, politics, justice or spiritualism gives life meaning and purpose. It is the antidote to a ‘fidgeting until we die’ syndrome. Most entrepreneurs will be familiar with this concept, even if the clinical terminologies might escape them. A Start Up is a culmination of dreams and efforts so much larger than the people behind them. It is individual centric but not individual centred. The passion and driving force that entrepreneurs experience in giving seed to ideas that will revolutionize the way society works, is exactly what Martin Seligman was talking about when he said, “Happiness is just one fifth of what human beings choose to do.”
When you put your passion and life force into creating something that will benefit an entire community then you are buying yourself a one stop ticket to authentic, heartfelt happiness. You are investing your heart and soul into something that is so much bigger than yourself. Most people spend a lifetime chasing happiness. You have realized that happiness is not the destination. It is the by-product of leading a worthy life.