Is Happiness Overrated?

May 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured

Posted below is an excellent article I found today in the New York Times – albeit a little late, it was published on May 16th.

It’s about Martin Seligman’s new book, “Flourish”.  Seligman is also the writer of the 2002 bestseller “American Happiness” and founder of the positive psychology movement.

It is an excellent post because it states that happiness is overrated. The post then goes on to describe what the feeling of well-being is, and the necessary elements to get there.  It lists 5 elements and they are: 1- positive emotion, 2 – engagement, 3 – relationships, 4 – meaning and 5 – accomplishment.  These five elements together create a sense of well-being which is actually permanent and not transient like happiness.

When I lived in upstate NY years ago, I used to love to mow the lawn.  It may sound strange to draw satisfaction from such a mundane activity, but let’s look at the five elements and what mowing the lawn meant for me.

The days I went out were beautiful days.  I picked them specifically because I would be outside for a couple of hours going up and down and around the house so being a nice day was important.  The beautiful day created in me a positive emotion.  Then sitting in my little tractor repeating the same activity over and over, allowed me to become lost in what I was doing.  It felt like there was nothing else beyond me, the lawn and my mower.  I was fully committed to what I was doing.  And when I was done, I felt tremendous satisfaction.  I looked around, saw the great job I had done, and I felt fulfilled.  I can’t add relationship to this or meaning.  But the three other elements were enough to make me feel content and thus have a sense of well-being.

Now mowing the lawn may not create the same response on everyone.  So it is up to each one of us to find those things that give us that sense of well-being.

Another example out of my own life; is my weekends.  The reason is that on weekends I slow-down, and I do things that give me pleasure. Then I combined that with doing things like writing – which give me a sense of meaning and accomplishment.  I also make time to check in with my close friends and so create a feeling of connection and belonging as well.

This all goes back to: money and fame without meaning and a true sense of accomplishment feel empty.  But simple tasks imbued with our full attention can give us a sense of meaning and create a sense of accomplishment.

Having a sense of well-being is much more within our reach than we imagine.  Paying attention to our friends and family, fully engaging in certain activities, finding what give our lives meaning, and setting out to do them is all it takes.  It doesn’t take reaching mount Everest or being on the cover of People Magazine.

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Is happiness overrated?

by John Tierney

Martin Seligman now thinks so, which may seem like an odd position for the founder of the positive psychology movement. As president of the American Pyschological Association in the late 1990s, he criticized his colleagues for focusing relentlessly on mental illness and other problems. He prodded them to study life’s joys, and wrote a best seller in 2002 titled “Authentic Happiness.”

But now he regrets that title. As the investigation of happiness proceeded, Dr. Seligman began seeing certain limitations of the concept. Why did couples go on having children even though the data clearly showed that parents are less happy than childless couples? Why did billionaires desperately seek more money even when there was nothing they wanted to do with it?  Continued…

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