Diane and I recorded a new podcast episode exploring the relationship between happiness and pleasure. I really like how Martin Seligman, one of the creators of the field of positive psychology, characterizes happiness: an overall state, the arc of a life that includes more positively-valenced feelings than negatively-valenced feelings.
The three components of the happy life are interesting, as well: the Pleasant Life, the Good Life, and the Meaningful Life. The most important aspect is the Meaningful Life. This is where people should focus their energies to maximize the happiness they feel and experience over the course of their lifetimes.
I like that Seligman (and other positive psychologists) acknowledge the place of pleasant feelings and experiences. Pleasure is not the source or foundation of happiness, but is an important piece. I treasure the areas of pleasure in my own life: playing piano, making and eating good food, wearing comfortable or pretty clothes, reading an engaging book, being cuddled up under warm blankets on a cool night… those are some of my favorite aspects of day-to-day living.
But those moments do not, in and of themselves, add up to a happy life. I think this is really important for me to keep in mind when I struggle with people assuming I am happy, or thinking I should be happy, because I live in Hawaii — the land of constant available pleasure. (Or is that Vegas? I KID) With beaches and sunshine and warm breezes and pina coladas available all year long, how could I NOT be happy?!
Well, because those are pleasures. Living in Hawaii certainly makes my day-to-day life more pleasant, and that’s not a small thing! It’s wonderful, and I’m grateful for how Hawaii adds to the arc of my current happiness. But those “Hawaii” things do not contribute directly to the “meaningful” aspect of my life, so living here does not enrich, in a deep way, my real happiness. In some ways, the things I’ve experienced here have made it more difficult to pursue and find the meaningfulness that makes life happier. It’s good for me to remember that, both to give myself grace to be unhappy and to recognize the ways I can reframe my thinking to find and pursue the meaning that will ultimately contribute most to the happiness I crave.
I’d love for you to take a listen if the topic of happiness/pleasure interests you. I’d also love to hear what makes your life meaningful to you.