One of the ironies of our modern existence is that even though we in the developed world; have unprecedented levels of material well-being, are living longer than ever before, have access to all the food we could ever eat, and have ridiculous amounts of technology to “make our life easier”, collectively we are not appreciably happier than our predecessors. For many, our modern lives generate such high levels of stress and anxiety that we are living joyless lives of struggle, distraction, and excessive consumption that does not fill our hunger.
Over the past 10 years, there has been an exceptional amount of research looking into the science of positive psychology. While books could be written about the different theories and findings, some of the most powerful work can be grasped and applied by tending to three key areas:
For higher levels of happiness, we need to know what brings us pleasure and do those things that make us laugh, smile, and be content. (Our society is pretty adept at this. Many of us focus an inordinate amount of time and money on pursuing pleasure. Unfortunately, this is the least important of the three components. In other words, the pursuit of pleasure is necessary but not sufficient to bring us happiness.)
To experience high levels of happiness, we need to be deeply engaged in our life. This includes our work, those things we do in our spare time, and especially our key relationships. (Studies are showing us to be far more social creatures than we previously thought. As modern life precludes us from spending time with our friends and family, we suffer.)
Significantly higher levels of happiness are experienced when we apply our personal strengths to a higher goal. (This is what we typically experience when we begin to get over self-absorption and contribute to “helping others”, or work in service of a “greater good”, or a “higher cause”.)
When I was a young boy, my grandmother used to tell me to “be kind”, and “count your blessings”. It seems Grandma had figured it out long before the Social Psychologists. Every day she would practice service to others, kindness, and gratitude. The very things that science is now proving contribute the most to our inner happiness.