Happiness. The elusive feeling that comes and goes as surely as the wind blows. That emotion which pops up seemingly out of nowhere, and can be gone just as quickly.
In a world where people are ridden with mental illness, anxieties, stressors, and depression – what do we have to do to get some peace and joy around here?
Turns out, we know how.
This article will be based upon the teachings of Positive Psychology (coined by Abraham Maslow), a field of study pioneered by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman.
In his decades of study, he and his team have found there to be three main paths to happiness: The Pleasant Life, The Good Life, and The Meaningful Life. Let us explore each of these one-at-a-time.
The Pleasurable Life
The Pleasant Life (TPL) is akin to the American Dream. It revolves around a steady income, a house that can truly be called home, and spending time with those we love and cherish to have in our lives.
It also includes filling our space with things that bring us joy, such as, for example: a book shelf of our favorite novels, candles that invoke memories of good times in life, art from our hearts or that speaks to them, that fresh pot of coffee in the morning, and the bubble bath with Epsom salts that is well-deserved after a long day at work. TPL speaks of the little things that fill our space and time, filling us with joy in the moments they are present.
This way of living has many benefits. At face value, it seems as if TPL is something earned with time and money. It requires deep meaningful relationships and laughing deeply, often. Yet, that is not all it implies.
The Pleasant Life, at its core, is about looking at the past with a constructive view, thinking hopefully about the future based upon what we have learned in the past, and as a result, gaining happiness in the present moment. It allows us to move on from what has been and truly appreciate what is right in front of us.
The Good Life
While The Pleasant Life focuses on sparking joy through externalities, The Good Life begins our journey inwards. It starts from within the individual.
When is the last time you experienced “flow?” That moment when time seemingly stops. You become so absorbed in what you are doing that the moment from sunrise to sunset seems to spill into itself.
This is what we commonly see in those who do sports like football, or artists who become so immersed in their painting that they lose themselves and forget to eat.
Flow is that feeling that brings us
entirely into ourselves. Into the present moment. We may not be very emotional during this time, as no emotions are hung onto long enough to truly manifest. We move through each moment as steady as the breath fills and empties our lungs.
Flow looks different for each person, and can be sparked from any activity that feels grounding and good for the individual. Once someone finds their flow and devotes themselves to it, nothing else really matters. This immersion in the flow state is part of what monks had spent years trying to perfect within their own lives. It is stoic in nature and often leads to a life of contentment.
Those who have found their flow may neglect some other areas of life, such as The Pleasant Life. In finding The Good Life has brought them such inner peace, it may not seem as important to seek out other forms of pleasure; Those that can be bought, or even relationships.
Those in The Good Life have a tendency to be rather unemotional. They remain level-headed and at peace within themselves for the most part. This can be off-putting for some people, yet fulfilling and eternally enriching for those who have cultivated it for themselves.
The Meaningful Life
I believe it is in our nature to search for meaning. We all crave that deep sense of knowing. After awhile, we may begin to realize that much of the meaning in our own lives stems from the meaning we give it. We choose the things that give our life substance and purpose, in hopes of making it more meaningful.
The Meaningful Life (TML) is for those who have cultivated meaning that resonates with them. More often than not, this meaning is found in acts of service and surrendering ourselves to a higher purpose.
Whether this be through religion, activism, charity, volunteering, or the like. The Meaningful Life requires us to think beyond ourselves and remember that we are part of something much bigger. In finding our joy through TML, we are able to share that joy with others. We can relate with others through it. We can make a difference in our world with tangible – sometimes unseen, yet felt – results.
It is no longer simply “me and mine.” It has become “we, us, and ours.” This is the core of TML. “What do I have to offer that can be of service to the greatest good of all? In what ways can I help?”
How They Compare
You may be wondering: Does it matter what path I choose? Does one lead to more joy than the other?
Short answer would be… yes.
Each path has something to offer, however, two stand out as the paths that offer the most happiness: The Meaningful Life and The Good Life.
Though The Pleasant Life has many benefits, it is a path that is variable. It does not offer as steady a supply of happiness as the other two. TPL can be looked at more as “the cherry on top.”
Between The Meaningful Life and The Good Life, the variability in joy they offered among individuals experienced them was slight enough to not have a significant difference.
It can be concluded that by building a foundation in either TML or TGL, and indulging in TPL when opportunities are present, we are made able to experience that ever-longed-for happiness on a sustained basis.
What do you think? What category might you fall into? Which would you like to explore more? Leave a comment and follow for more articles on health and wellness.