Thursday, July 31, 2014 · 7:28 a.m.

Three paths to happiness

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Happiness is like sex. It’s something we all want yet rarely talk about. But unlike sex, when we do talk about it, we usually dismiss happiness as some hokey concept that, if pursued, qualifies us as an idealist with no sense of reality.

Happiness is something we can all achieve. (Photo: MGNOnline)

Why is the idea of happiness so easily dismissed? Is it so difficult to attain happiness that the mere discussion of it becomes a reaction against our very desire for it?

Some people think happiness is trite, not a serious subject or too vague to be relevant. The thing is, we make decisions every day because we believe that these decisions will bring us closer to what we want. For most of us, what we want is to be happy. So let’s get serious about happiness. Here are three paths that can help you get more of it.

The pleasurable life
When someone says “happy,” for many of us this conjures up images of a pleasurable life—beautiful sunsets, good wine, a massage. This type of happiness, also known as hedonia, is reflected in having positive emotions like awe, curiosity, gratitude, play and satisfaction. The expression of these emotions is witnessed in an ebullient personality—big smile, bright eyes, laughter. This type of happiness is epitomized on the red carpet—what we think of when we imagine the life of Hollywood’s elite.

But herein lies the big misconception about happiness. Happiness is not all fun, games and positive emotions. These alone are not sufficient for achieving a life well-lived. This is just one version of happiness.

Happiness is also developing grit, living out personal values, working hard, achieving goals, taking personal responsibility and practicing empathy—skills that aren’t typically “fun.” So, I’d like to propose two more sustainable paths to happiness. 

The good life
When you are pursuing the good life, you are deeply engaged in all facets of your life. You show up. You know what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, when you’re mentally strong and what values you’re unwilling to compromise.

Engagement is also about finding your flow, which is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” When you know your strengths, have time to develop those strengths and are able to make a positive impact on the world with those strengths, flow will happen.

Although you can’t be in flow all the time, identifying your strengths—by using a test like StrengthsFinder 2.0—and defining your guiding values (life-work balance, being an honest person, having lots of social time with friends) will go far to set you down the path to the good life. 

The meaningful life
The third path to happiness is found in living a meaningful life. Meaningfulness is believing in a purpose or cause. It’s contributing to something bigger than you. It’s belonging to a tribe with shared values in order to do something more significant than you could do alone. 

People without meaning live hollow lives. They struggle to find their life’s purpose. I can think of nothing sadder than living a life without clarity in one’s purpose. We all have one. And we usually find ours through the relationships we find ourselves in.

Like the show "Lost," we go to the island to fulfill our destiny. The cast of characters we spend our time with help us not only to find it, but also to live it out.

Who are the cast of characters in your life? And what are they showing you about your purpose? Find the answer to these two questions, and you may be well on your way to a happier life.

Dr. Shelley Prevost is a positive psychologist. She is a partner and director of happiness at Lamp Post Group. Follow her on Twitter @thegladlab. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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