Most people seek a life filled with meaning, contentment,
gratification, and pleasure. In moments of reflection, we
may wonder what we can do to direct our lives not only away
from anxiety, anger, stress, and depression - but toward a state
of personal fulfillment. We may realize that the typical markers
of achievement in our society - a graduation, a marriage, a job
promotion, the completion of a project, buying a home - don't
always bring us the happiness that we expected, and often they
increase our stress levels.
Despite the fact that we are affluent by world standards, able to
drive nice cars, live in large, clean houses, and have access to
entertainment media, we are subjected to high levels of stress.
As a result, many of us carry with us a pervasive feeling of
discontent. We pursue the next highest goal in our lives, only
to find that achieving that goal does not bring us the feeling
of true happiness that we long for. Most of us live better than
royalty did in the past, but these high standards of living have
not brought us a sense of true contentment. A recent survey of
people in nations around the globe learned that the highest levels of personal happiness were found in Nigeria, followed by
Mexico. The United States came in at number 16, while Canada
and most of Western Europe also scored at similar levels.
Psychotherapy has made great strides over the past half century
in understanding various forms of mental illness. We can now
classify these conditions and make appropriate interventions
to alleviate them through specific forms of psychotherapy and
sometimes medication. Less research has been done, however,
in finding ways to understand how we can achieve a life filled
with meaning and contentment.
We have a host of methods for treating some of the conditions
associated with unhappiness - stress, anxiety, depression, anger,
lack of assertiveness, substance abuse, poor interpersonal relationships, cognitive and emotional impairments. Now, however,
psychotherapy is making similar strides in devising methods people can use to move to the next step, from unhappiness
to true happiness. The purpose of this new trend in psychotherapy is to understand how people can achieve genuine
happiness in their lives. It shifts the focus in psychotherapy
from the negative to the positive. There is a place for understanding and treating more negative life experiences, depending on the concerns of the individual, just as, in many cases,
the focus should be on the positive. Sometimes, when people
have resolved their negative issues, they can begin to focus
on more positive concerns.
There are some things we can do about our life circumstances
to increase our level of personal happiness. For example,
cross-national studies have found that people who live in
wealthy democracies are generally happier than those who
live in countries with poverty and dictatorships. People who
are in committed relationships tend to be happier than people
who live alone. People who are lucky enough to avoid negative events in their lives report higher levels of happiness
than those who have been hit by unfortunate events, such as
job loss, divorce, or the death of a loved one. Those who are
religious report higher levels of happiness than those who
are not. Surprisingly, however, once a basic level of financial security has been achieved, having more money does
not contribute to happiness. Healthy people appear to be no
happier than those who suffer from an illness. Higher levels
of educational attainment are not linked to more happiness.
People in sunny climates report about the same levels of happiness as those in colder climates. And race has no effect on a
person's perceived level of happiness.
Recent research has focused on how a person can work
toward a happier life. Martin Seligman and his associates at
the University of Pennsylvania base Positive Psychology on
years of research into what makes people happy. They have
concluded that happiness is an internal experience based on
staying true to one's genuine or authentic self. When people
are able to function well in the world using their strongest
abilities (they call these abilities our "signature strengths"),
they have a chance to achieve authentic happiness. They have
identified twenty-four signature strengths found in cultures
across the world.
The first step is to
identify your own
From there, you
can explore ways
to incorporate these
strengths into your
life so that your
best abilities can be
expressed in whatever you do in your daily life. When you can stay true to the best in yourself, you
can achieve an authentically happy life.
You may want to investigate your own signature strengths by taking a
test found on the Internet at
www.authentichappiness.org. Take the VIA Strengths
The following are the twenty-four signature strengths identified in the Positive Psychology approach. Identify the two or
three that fit you best. To work toward authentic happiness, A
try to see how you can incorporate these strengths into your
daily life experiences.
1. Curiosity / Interest in the World
being open to experience and flexibility in dealing with ideas
that do not fit your preconceived notions about the world.
Curious people not only tolerate ambiguity well, but they
seek it out and are attracted by it. Curiosity implies an active
involvement in learning about new information, not just a
passive interest in new things, and it is the opposite of being
2. Love of Learning
This strength refers to the strong enjoyment of learning new things, and it implies that you seek out
learning wherever you can find it - through reading, taking
classes, going to museums. You love learning even when
there are no external incentives for you to do so.
3. Judgement / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness
This trait refers to thinking things through based on solid evidence. You examine all sides of an issue before coming to a
conclusion, and you are able to change your mind in the face
of new information. The opposite of this strength is seeking out information only if it conforms to what you already believe.
4. Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts
This attribute refers to an ability to find novel ways
of achieving your goals, as long as they are appropriate. It
means finding new and creative ways to get what you want,
and not going through conventional routes to get there.
5. Social, Personal and Emotional Intelligence
social intelligence are those who are able to read the moods,
needs and motives of other people and can respond appropriately to others. It does not refer just to being introspective - it
also implies being able to engage in socially skilled behavior.
Personal intelligence means being tuned into your own feelings. You are able to put yourself into situations that bring
out your best abilities, such as a job where you do what you
This strength is similar to wisdom. It implies
that others draw on your experience to help them solve problems and gain perspective for themselves. It means having a
way of defining the world that makes sense to you and other
7. Valor and Bravery
This trait pertains to having the courage to face difficult situations or stand for your beliefs in the
face of opposition or challenge. This is not mere boldness or
rashness. It refers to the ability to face danger, despite fear,
without the loss of dignity.
8. Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
being able to finish what you start with a positive attitude.
You do what you say you'll do. It does not refer to obsessively
pursuing unattainable goals or perfectionism. Rather, it implies
flexibility and a realistic approach to finishing projects.
9. Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty
You live your life with
genuineness and authenticity. You are down to earth and let
others see your true self. This is more than just telling the
truth. It means showing the world who you really are without
10. Kindness and Generosity
This strength involves doing
good deeds for others, taking their interests as seriously as
your own and acknowledging the worth of other people.
Empathy and sympathy are related to this trait.
11. Loving and Allowing Yourself to Be Loved
implies an ability to form close and intimate relations with
other people, and to choose people who feel the same way
toward you. While some people can show love to others, this
trait also implies the ability to let others love you in return.
12. Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
You are a
loyal, dedicated member of groups and can always be counted
on to do your share. You are able to put the interests of the
group above your own, respecting the authority of the group.
13. Fairness and Equity
This trait involves an ability to treat
people equally and fairly regardless of your own personal biases. It implies that you are able to give everyone a fair chance
and that you are guided by principles of morality.
A good leader is effective at organizing the
activities of people, getting the group's work done while maintaining good relations between group members. This person
maintains a humane approach when dealing with group members, as well as in coordinating activities between groups.
This characteristic involves the ability to
hold your impulses and needs in check when appropriate. It
implies expertise in regulating your emotions when things go
bad, as well as maintaining a positive attitude when faced with
16. Prudence / Discretion / Caution
This strength implies an
ability to be careful. You avoid saying things you might later
regret. You are more aware of long-term goals and their consequences rather than going for short-term gain.
17. Humility and Modesty
Humble people do not seek the
spotlight, and they let their accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not define yourself as special, realizing that
your life victories and defeats are unimportant in the grand
scheme of things. You are unpretentious and others recognize, and admire, you for this quality.
18. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
You are elevated by beauty, excellence, and skill in all domains. You are
able to appreciate the awe and wonder of life all around you
- in nature, art, science, and little, everyday things.
You are aware of what is good in the world
and you don't take these things for granted. You appreciate
the good in people and their accomplishments, as well as in
nature. You take the time to count your blessings, and you
show this in your actions.
20. Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness
You have a
goal-directed life based on your expectation that you will
achieve the best for yourself in the future. Your optimism
helps guide you in planning and working hard to achieve
21. Spirituality / Sense of Purpose / Faith / Religiosity
You have strong beliefs in your attachment to something
larger than you are. You search for your place in the universe, and these beliefs both mold your actions and serve as
a source of comfort for you. You feel that your life has purpose and meaning.
22. Forgiveness and Mercy
This strength refers to your
ability to forgive those who have done you wrong. You are
guided by mercy rather than revenge, and you always give
people a second chance. Your way of dealing with others is
to be kind and generous rather than avoidant or retaliatory.
23. Playfulness and Humor
You enjoy laughing and bringing lightness and fun to other people. You are able to mix
work and play, and you, and others, appreciate your ability
to lift others out of seriousness and into humor.
24. Zest / Passion / Enthusiasm
You are true to your
spirit. You approach life with passion and energy and you
can enthusiastically throw yourself into activities. You feel
inspired by the mere act of living life to the fullest.
Can Money Buy Happiness?
The simple answer to this question is that no, money can't buy happiness - in most cases.
Researchers have compared people in countries throughout the world. In the poorest nations, people with more money
do report greater happiness in their lives, an easily understood concept. That is, those who live in severe poverty are
not as happy as those who have enough money to meet their basic needs. However, once the average income exceeds $8,000
per person in a country (and industrial countries in the western hemisphere all exceed this figure), it was found that more
money does not lead to greater life satisfaction. Even those who are fabulously rich in the United States were found to be
only slightly happier than the average citizen. In America, real income has risen 16 percent within the last thirty years, yet
people who describe themselves as "very happy" have fallen during that time from 36 percent to 29 percent. People with
the highest incomes often have to work long hours, and many of them quit these jobs in order to find work that brings them
greater life satisfaction.
We adapt to higher incomes, and then they lose their allure. Just after a promotion and higher salary, a person does
report greater life satisfaction and happiness. However, in less than three months the higher level of income loses its
impact on happiness levels. We learn to take the higher income for granted. As we accumulate more material possessions,
our expectations rise. The things we worked so hard for no longer make us happy. We then work even harder to get to the
next level. And then the same thing happens - we adapt to the higher level, and then within three months our happiness
levels drop again. We end up on a treadmill, working harder and searching for more, then adapting to the higher levels.
Finding happiness does not lie in making more money. It is found within.