Happiness

What is happiness? As we enter a new year, it seems an appropriate time to reflect upon how we want to live our lives.

Happiness means different things to different people: a positive outlook, security, faith in a higher power, good health, meaningful work, love. Many psychologists believe that happiness, versus unhappiness, is a choice. They believe it’s the story people tell themselves about their lives.
Dr. Martin Seligman, the positive psychology guru who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, chooses to use the term well-being. He created a handy acronym to describe what he sees as the five components of well-being: PERMA. P stands for positive emotion—expressing positive emotion as much as possible. E is for engagement, or flow—intense absorption in work or other occupations (such as an athlete in the thick of a game, or an artist creating a painting or sculpture) to the point of losing track of time and space. R is for relationships, probably the single most compelling element. M is for meaning—engaging in activities or work that provide a feeling of purpose. And A is for accomplishment—pursuing things in life that give you a deep sense of achievement.
While Seligman targets well-being, the late psychiatrist Victor Frankl addresses life’s meaning. Frankl, author of the iconic Man’s Search for Meaning, believed that man comes to the meaning of his life through three avenues: meaningful work or good deeds, love or relationship, and transcendence. Transcendence means rising above a painful life experience, or a quality within yourself, which sabotages your ability to thrive; and then transforming this experience by helping others who are struggling with similar hardship.
Ultimately, both Frankl and Seligman are attempting to conceptualize what makes life worth living. What their philosophies show is that for the most part, happiness is a choice. If the story you tell about your life is that of a victim, that will be your reality. But if you consciously begin to re-write that narrative, embracing gratitude for the miracle of life and committing to your own potential, you are making inroads toward happiness. And if you help others along the way, you may be already there.