The Pursuit of Happiness:
3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Boost Your Happiness

Many clients have told me that they are not feeling happy, even though they have achieved a lot in their lives like having a good job, a house, a car, and so on. Happiness and psychological wellbeing are something that everyone is inherently striving for.

But what is happiness and how can we achieve it? Why are some people unhappy regardless of their achievements?

In the process of psychological treatment, setting treatment goals is an essential part in the early stage of treatment. Indeed, “to be happy” is one of the most common treatment goals. For the pursuit of happiness it is very important to know what happiness actually involves. For example, if you think it is merely positive emotions, you may try to achieve happiness by inducing positive emotions, but they do not last forever. Emotions are a fleeting and momentary experience.

 

So, what do you think happiness is?

There are many theories that have contributed to our current understanding and the definitions of happiness. For example, Dr Abraham Maslow theorised our needs in his hierarchy of needs – five needs are divided into basic (or deficiency) needs such as physiological, safety, love and esteem, and growth needs (self-actualization). The basic needs are those that all of us strive for if not achieved. Self-actualization, on the other hand, is not something that everyone achieves or strives for.

 

The five-stage model includes, from lower to higher level:

  1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
  2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
  3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, and romantic relationships.
  4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others.
  5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

How are these needs and happiness related?

Even if you meet your lower basic needs, like physiological and safety needs, for instance by having a good job, it does not meet all of your basic needs. One way of achieving happiness is to understand which of your needs are unmet. Dr Maslow also stated that peak experiences, where an individual feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet part of the world, more aware of truth, justice, harmony, goodness, and so on, provide us with profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture. Self-actualizing people are believed to have many such peak experiences.

Dr Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, has also been researching happiness and what it entails. According to Dr Seligman, there are five components that need to be considered for the pursuit of happiness.

Five Components Involved in Happiness

  • Pleasure - Positive Emotions

    This is where you lead a life of pleasure, maximizing positive emotions while minimizing negative emotions.

  • Engagement - Flow

    This is where you are engaged in activities that allow you to be in flow. According to Dr Seligman, you need to identify your strengths that are deeply characteristic of yourself, and learn how to practice them. When you are in flow, you concentrate your undivided attention on activities that are moderately challenging to you. When you are in flow, it may seem that your sense of self vanishes and time stops.

  • Relationships

    Positive relationships are believed to be important to support the other four components of wellbeing.

  • Purpose - Meaning in your life

    An individual living with meaning is said to belong and serve something that is bigger than him/herself, for example family, community.

  • Accomplishment

    This is about the pursuit of success, winning, achievement, and mastery, both as end-goals and as processes. Dr Seligman argues that many people would pursue accomplishment for its own sake, even when it is devoid of positive emotions or meaning.

3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Boost Your Happiness

To boost happiness in your life, there are certain habits and behaviours you can start working on right now.

  • Do More of What You Love

    Increase flow in your life. Think about when you lost track of time and were absorbed in the present moment e.g., when listening to music, swimming, talking to your friend, etc. and engage in these activities more.

  • Develop Meaningful Relationships

    Research shows that it is not about the number of relationship you have, but the quality of relationship you have. An appropriate level of self-disclosure is essential in meaningful relationships – interpersonal skills training such as communication skills including sending and receiving verbal and nonverbal messages would help you to improve your relationships.

  • Find Purpose in Your Life

    Know your values, things that are very important to you, and your strengths and put them in practice today!

These are not mutually exclusive and they influence each other. That is, if you have a meaningful relationship, accomplishment, and purpose in your life, you would experience more positive emotions and flow moments, which ultimately increases your sense of happiness.

 

Dr Miyuki Ono
Dr Miyuki OnoBrisbane City Psychologist
Miyuki is a Clinical Psychologist experienced in working with adults presenting with a range of difficulties, including mood disorders, anxiety, personality disorders, stress, life transitions, grief and loss, self-esteem, emotion dysregulation, and childhood complex trauma.

 

 

References

Jackson, T., Soderlind, A. & Weiss, K. E. (2000). Personality traits and quality of relationships as predictors of future loneliness among American college students. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal 28(5), 463-470(8).

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.

Seligman, M. E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.  

See also https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/learn