“I just want to be happy.” Eighty five percent of the time my clients say this when I ask them to summarize their counseling goals. I don’t correct them in that moment, but, “just being happy” is a goal with limits. Unfortunately it’s what many people aim for. Trying to “just be happy” can contribute to addiction as we look for quick fixes of happiness in food, alcohol, drugs, sex and shopping. Sometimes we believe we’ll be happy when we reach a goal like weight loss, a new relationship, our dream job, a bigger house. But this doesn’t achieve what we want either.
How we feel in the moment, and achieving things, are components of a good life, but the field of positive psychology has identified additional factors, and elevates the goal of “just being happy” to flourishing. Dr. Lynn Sotts, a positive psychologist, describes flourishing as “the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life, that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, and being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.” The construct of flourishing was first identified by Dr. Martin Seligman and consists of five factors:
Accomplishment I feel a sense of accomplishment at completing two novels, but I also feel this every day when I’ve made the time to write or when I notice a small improvement in my skills. Pushing my comfort zone with public speaking, and marketing and promoting my books, has also contributed to feeling accomplished.
Engagement Writing helps me engage with both my inner and outer worlds. On a good day of writing, when I’m fully immersed in my plot, or finding the most eloquent way to express something, I’m engaged with my inner world. When I’m connecting with readers at book clubs or a reading, talking with my publisher, or coordinating marketing events with promoters, I’m engaging with the outer world. Sharing my writing and contributing my ideas, vision and creativity is also a form of engagement with the world.
Relationships I met two of my dearest friends 11 years ago, at my first writing workshop. Since then we’ve shared writing, reading and our lives in a deep way and I’m eternally grateful to have them in my life. Writing has also given me meaningful, brief relationships with my readers through emails or conversations about how my book(s) touched their lives. Though writing, I’ve also developed a more meaningful relationship with myself. Completing and publishing two novels revealed both my strengths and challenges. I was acutely aware of how I hold myself back with self doubt, self criticism, and feeling unworthy. I also found I have more creativity, courage and perseverance then I ever realized.
Meaning Knowing that my life, and my writing in some way, however small, has had a positive impact on another human being gives my life meaning. This broad sense of meaning permeates my daily life and provides the motivation to continue to write and not give in to self doubt.
Positive Emotions Ah, finally, we’re at the “just being happy part”, but it still isn’t that simple. Happiness, joy, peace, excitement are all positive emotions I’ve experienced in relation to my writing, but I’ve also experienced a great deal of negative ones: disappointment, loneliness, self doubt, anger, and frustration. The positive emotions certainly override the negative ones or I wouldn’t be a writer today, but it’s important to note that in the midst of a flourishing life, negative emotions are expected and not a reason to give up.
The emotion most strongly associated with my writing is not happiness. It’s peace. Knowing that I’m following through with what I’m meant to do and sharing it with with the world, despite the obstacles, gives me a sense of peace and authenticity. When I go long periods of time without writing, I experience dis-ease, because I’m not devoting time and energy to my passion and to one of the reasons I was put here on Earth.
I encourage you to look at your life through the lens of flourishing. Look for experiences and outlets that bring meaning, engagement, accomplishment, relationships and positive emotions into your life. Don’t settle for “just being happy”. Tap into your perseverance and resilience and create a life that flourishes.
P.S. When I finished this blog I felt HAPPY:)
Here are some resources to learn more about positive psychology and flourishing: