The Three Dimensions of Happiness
[Positive Psychology] takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment: meaning and purpose (Seligman 2002, p. 61). According to Seligman, we can experience three kinds of happiness: 1) pleasure and gratification, 2) embodiment of strengths and virtues and 3) meaning and purpose. Each kind of happiness is linked to positive emotion but from his quote, you can see that in his mind there is a progression from the first type of happiness of pleasure/gratification to strengths/virtues and finally meaning/purpose. The Pleasant Life: Past, Present & Future
Seligman provides a mental “toolkit” to achieve what he calls the pleasant life by enabling people to think constructively about the past, gain optimism and hope for the future and, as a result, gain greater happiness in the present. Dealing with the Past
Among Seligman’s arsenal for combating unhappiness with the past is that which we commonly and curiously find among the wisdom of the ages: gratitude and forgiveness. Seligman refers to American society as a “ventilationist society” that “deem[s] it honest, just and even healthy to express our anger.” He notes that this is often seen in the types of therapy used for issues, problems and challenges. In contrast, Seligman extols the East Asian tendency to quietly deal with difficult situations. He cites studies that find that those who refrain from expressing negative emotions and in turn use different strategies to cope with the stresses of life also tend to be happier (Seligman 2002, p. 69). Optimism about the Future
When looking to the future, Seligman recommends an outlook of hope and optimism. Happiness in the Present
After making headway with these strategies for dealing with negative emotions of the past and building hope and optimism for the future, Seligman recommends breaking habituation, savoring experiences and using mindfulness as ways to increase happiness in the present. The Role of Positive Emotion
Many studies have shown that positive emotions are frequently accompanied by fortunate circumstances (e.g., longer life, health, large social networks, etc). For example, one study observed nuns who were, for the most part, leading virtually identical lifestyles. It seemed that the nuns who expressed positive emotions more intensely and more frequently in their daily journals also happened to outlive many of the nuns who clearly did not. Another study used high school yearbook photos of women to see if the ultimate expression of happiness (a smile) might also be used as an indicator as to how satisfied they might be 20 years later. When surveyed, those who were photographed with genuine, “Duchenne” smiles were more likely to find themselves, in their mid-life, married with families and involved in richer social lives. In short, positive emotions are frequently paired with happy circumstances. And while we might be tempted to assume that happiness causes positive emotions, Seligman wonders, instead, whether positive emotions cause happiness. If so, what does this mean for our life and our happiness? The Good Life: Embodying the 6 Virtues & Cultivating the 24 Strengths The strengths and virtues [...] function against misfortune and against the psychological disorders, and they may be the key to building resilience (Seligman 2002, p. xiv). Virtues
One notable contribution that Seligman has made for Positive Psychology is his cross-cultural study to create an “authoritative classification and measurement system for the human strengths”. He and Dr. Christopher Peterson, a top expert in the field of hope and optimism, worked to create a classification system that would help psychologists measure positive psychology’s effectiveness. They used good character to measure its efficacy because good character was so consistently and strongly linked to lasting happiness. In order...