A Scientific Study of Happiness


“Everyone, without exception, is searching for happiness.”

– Blaise Pascal


Have you ever heard someone truthfully say they don’t want to be happy? While sometimes our actions and feelings get in the way, when it comes to the core of existence, we humans all want one thing: complete and utter bliss.

Just one question…What does that even mean?

For almost one hundred years since the birth of psychology, its primary focus had been about relieving human suffering. If humans are a flower garden, psychological research gives us tips on pulling the weeds. While weed pulling is a vital part of tending a garden, it is not the entire concept, or even the point.

In 1991 a pioneering psychologist named Martin Seligman coined the term positive psychology. He and his colleagues have carved a new agenda for research and practice: the study of positive emotion, character and institutions and the nurturing of their growth. Here the other parts of garden tending are accounted for—planting, watering, and drinking in the sunlight.

Over the years, Martin Seligman has identified six categories of positive psychology for study. All these topics form one cohesive acronym: PERMA.

Here we find a comprehensive outline of what true happiness is, and it’s not just about pleasurable sentimentality. Check this acronym out:

  • Positive Emotion: good feelings
  • Engagement: complete absorption in one’s activities
  • Relationships: authentic connection to others
  • Meaning: purposeful existence
  • Achievement: a sense of accomplishment



Want to learn how to better cultivate your own happiness? I once devoted an entire semester of my college experience writing a research paper on positive psychology. I’m going to break it down for you. Stay tuned for further installments of a six part series devoted to each of these categories. Each blog is 700 words or less and has all the essential information. I’ll include exercises that will help you develop each kind of happiness and I’ll reference original sources if you want greater detail.

As Roy M. Goodman said, “Remember that happiness is a way of travel – not a destination.” I’m looking forward to taking this journey with you.

What is Positive Psychology?

IMGP3560So at first a part of me balked at the idea that psychology could really have anything to say about happiness. It’s science, right? I figured that no one needs a person with a clip board to tell them what they need to do to be happy. Doesn’t being happy come from obvious things like having friends and making good choices and having beauty in the world?

Of course! And that is what is awesome about this movement known as Positive Psychology. It’s extremely practical, even obvious. And yet it’s useful and can help you figure out on the personal level what is lacking in your own life.

Forgive me for being a little academic here, but I want to provide a good, basic understanding of what Positive Psychology is so that I can refer to it in future posts. Consider what follows as a groundwork reference.

Positive Psychology has been called the science of happiness, and it’s the most empirically rigorous area of study ever on what people can do to increase their own happiness. More accurately, it’s the study of what happy people are doing that makes them happy.

So what is Positive Psychology?

It’s a branch of psychology that focuses away from what may be wrong with a person’s mind and instead examines what positive practices make life worth living. And the conclusions are not reached through anecdotal evidence but through actual scientific studies. So what have all those hours in the lab revealed?

  • People are happy when they are physically active
  • People are happy when they are connected spiritually
  • People are happy when they are engaged in meaningful relationships with others
  • People are happy when they are kind to and care for those around them
  • People are happy when they understand their own strengths and abilities
  • People are happy when their work puts them into a state of “flow” or deeply satisfying involvement

All of these areas have been tested and proven, and they simply make sense. As we revisit each of these areas in future postings, I want to explore what kinds of practices apply to each one.

To learn more, watch this video that explains the basics of Positive Psychology. You can also visit pursuit-of-happiness.org here, which is where I got most of my information.