On happiness

We’ve had a bit of a break during August while the Mindapples team did other things like write dissertations, go on holiday and launch shiny new websites. It’s been a pretty intense year so far and it’s been good to take a bit of a rest and recouperate.

But now, we’re back, and I rejoined the swing of things by attending Martin Seligman’s Young Foundation lecture on Monday, which was full of fresh, crunchy food for thought. Martin is sometimes credited as the founder of positive psychology and his research has produced some very interesting techniques for promoting optimism and fighting depression. I’ll blog about these techniques in bite-sized chunks over the next few weeks, as they certainly feel like good mindapples fodder.

For now though, I just wanted to share Martin’s thoughts on ‘happiness’, a word that has often been used in relation to the Mindapples project. Unlike the influential ‘happiness economist’ Lord Layard (also present on Monday), Martin feels happiness is a somewhat unwieldy term for many purposes and needs to be broken down into more tangible components. In his view, happiness divides into three elements:

  1. The Pleasant Life – the hedonic realm of pleasurable sensation and positive emotion;
  2. The Engaged Life – the flow and satisfaction of engaging in positive activities and positive character;
  3. The Meaningful Life – connecting to something larger than yourself, positive institutions.

Interestingly, whilst we have a great many shortcuts to pleasure, and many of us are doing things we find engaging and character-building, Martin believes the key change over the past 50 years has been the decline in meaning, and in belief in meaningful institutions. And when you consider the average onset age for depression in 1960 was 30, and by 1995 it was 14.5, there’s definitely something there that’s worth investigating.

So how many of your five-a-day are about connecting to something larger than yourself, making life more meaningful? And do you agree with Martin’s view of happiness?

As for me… well, taking a break was very pleasant – but it’s nice to be back.