The theory of positive psychology and its extension into the practice of authentic happiness were developed by Martin Seligman. Dr Seligman is the acknowledged authority in this area and his many books and papers represent a practical starting place for anyone pursuing the goal of increasing their happiness.
Today the concept of happiness has turned into a catch all buzz word and most people have become deaf and blind to the array of information promoting happiness as a worthwhile personal goal. The result of this overload is essentially no change.
It’s worthwhile to take a step back from the current happiness hype and revisit what Dr Seligman considered the specific aspects the led to happiness. Breaking the broad concept into practical elements can change a person’s perspective from apathy to proactivity and positive results..
Seligman’s theory of Authentic Happiness was that happiness could be broken into five different elements that we choose for their own sake: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships and achievements. Each of these elements is better defined and more measurable than happiness.
The first element is positive emotion; what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, and so on. An entire life led successfully around this element, Seligman called a ‘pleasant life’.
The second element, engagement, is about flow: being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self consciousness during and absorbing activity. Engagement is different – even opposite – from positive emotion. If you ask someone who is in flow what they are feeling, they usually say ‘nothing’. In flow, we merge with the object.
The third element of happiness is meaning. Humans want meaning and purpose in life. A meaningful life consists of belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger that the self and society has created an array of positive institutions to allow this: religion, political parties, protecting the environment, charitable organizations, family.
The fourth element is relationships; that individuals flourish through their connections through relationships. This concept may seem obvious but, many cases, relationships are taken for granted and the impact of them is significantly diminished.
Seligman’s final element of happiness is achievements; which are activities in which we engage to the unique purpose of making an impact and feeling successful
When assessing our own sense of happiness, we will get a far more accurate picture when using Seligman’s five elements to create the assessment. Answer the question "how much of a specific element am I actually bringing into my life?". If this idea is appealing but you don’t know where to start, perhaps your coach get you going in the right direction!