Pleasure, Flow, and Meaning. That may not mean much to you right now, but by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll have a better understanding of happiness as a whole. Even doper (yes I said it — doper) is that you’ll understand which types of happiness are built to last. Here goes something…

A couple of cute words on happiness. You ask: why would I want to be happy? My homeboy Tal Ben-Shahar says simply that we pursue happiness because it’s our nature to do so. The word “emotion” has the same root in it as “motive” and “motion.” It’s emotion that motivates us to move. Happiness, essentially, is the mack-daddy of all emotions. Can I get a 90s hip-hop head nod?

But what really is happiness? Well I’m glad you asked. Tal defines happiness as “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning.” There’s something special in that statement. It was a ground ball right to you — did you catch it? Pleasure and meaning entail present and future benefit. Doing something that stimulates you now while simultaneously providing you with future benefit — that’s where it’s at homeslice!

Another one of my main men, Martin Seligman, breaks happiness up into three types of lives: The Pleasant Life, The Good Life, and The Meaningful Life.

The Pleasant Life

The pleasant life consists of having as many pleasures as possible.

You can think of pleasure in any sense that you’d like, but I’m keeping this PG-13. Warning: some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Pleasure in this instance constitutes positive emotion and savoring the moment. It’s the feeling you get when you eat your favorite tasting food. {{Baked sweet potato fries}} It can be the sensation that arises and stimulates you when you first find romance. It’s a smiley, cheerful, fun-filled feeling of loving the moment. It is, however, quite elusive.

Here are a couple of drawbacks to the pleasant life:

  • Appropriately 50% of positive emotion comes from your genes and it seems there’s not a massive amount that can be done about that. For some tricks and tips on how to increase happiness in this arena, check out: 12 Scientifically Proven Steps Toward Everyday Happiness
  • Our dude Marty says that positive emotion habituates like, and I quote him, “French-vanilla ice-cream.” The first taste is a euphoric explosion but by the time you’re on spoon six — it’s nothing new.

The Good Life

The good life consists of a life filled with “Flow.”

The term Flow was coined by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and can be defined as a state in which “action and awareness are merged.” It’s being so immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time and feeling. You’re completely focused on the task at hand and nothing will distract you from it.

Athletes call this being in the zone. You may experience it when you dance, study for a test, read a great book, play ping-pong, or perform open-heart surgery.

Flow occurs when you strike a balance between two things: the task’s difficulty level and your skill level. If you’re over-skilled, you’ll be bored. If you’re under-skilled, you’ll be anxious. When there’s a balanced between the two, you’ll be flowing!

You can increase flow experiences in your life by identifying what your strengths are, and re-crafting your life to use them as much as you can on a daily basis. It may be helpful, but you don’t need new circumstances to integrate more flow into your life. Get creative!

The Meaningful Life

The meaningful life consists of living with purpose,

or even an ongoing set of goals. Your purpose can be anything you want, but check it — it has to be something that’s intrinsically valuable to you. That means that the purpose in and of itself is valuable to you. There’s personal meaning behind it!

If you’re doing it because you feel like it’s what you’re supposed to do — that’s not your purpose! Rather, your purpose is gonna be something you want to do! Can you feel the difference in doing something that you’re obligated to do versus doing something because it’s personally meaningful to you?

As with The Good Life, The Meaningful Life entails knowing what your highest strengths are, and then using them daily — especially in service to something greater than yourself.

Lasting Happiness

Are you thoroughly aroused right now?

Yeah, positive psych seems to have that effect on people around here — you’re not the only one. Well, in the midst of this passionate moment, keep in mind that the different lives listed above are not mutually exclusive. In fact, your best bet is a life that combines all three! In the long run, the two lives that bring lasting happiness are The Good Life and The Meaningful Life. The Pleasant Life is definitely worth pursuing, but by itself, will be of little long-term value to ya.

Happiness is a skill. A practice. A muscle. The more time you spend consciously working it out, the more jacked up you’ll be about life. If you start slacking and skipping sessions at the happiness gym, you’ll shortly after shrink in size. Happiness, like Mastery, is about the journey. Sure there are ups and downs but those pass, and in the long run, you’re gonna be as happy as you’re committed to being… Enjoy the joy of it all!

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