A Scientific Study of Happiness

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“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

PERMA!

PERMA

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.

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You Already Have a Name, Long Before You Go Out to Make a Name for Yourself

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You know that saying, “I’m going to make a name for myself.” It came into my mind today when I was reading an article that featured several bloggers and their personal views on the same subject.

I was impressed by the article and thought, “Blogging can be a way to make a name for yourself out there.” I was imagining having tons of readers for my blog and my yet-to-be-published novels and what that would feel like. I wanted to make a name for myself.

Suddenly a deeper part of me burst out. “But I already have a name!”

My name is Jessi, and no amount of professional success could essentially change my identity.

Here is why.

Think about babies and the way their parents feel about them. They don’t have to accomplish anything or be little geniuses or set world records to be loved. The very fact that they exist makes them worth loving.

When you were born, I can almost guarantee that your parents thought you were the most beautiful little creature they had ever seen.

Actually you were a squashy, splotchy crying thing that couldn’t focus its eyes. It took you weeks to learn to roll over and months to start crawling.

But your parents loved you the entire time, even when you couldn’t do anything. And I bet they weren’t loving you for your future-impressiveness either.

What kind of mother says, “I’ll love her when she becomes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company” or “I’ll love him when he is signed onto an NFL team”? Your parents loved you before you could say, “Mama” or “Dada.” So they could not possibly have based their love on what you were capable of doing.

It just was.

That’s why the idea of gaining some kind of self worth from “making a name” for yourself is just silly. By virtue of living, you already have worth. Impressive achievements and public recognition can’t give you what you already have.

It’s already there.

I don’t want to imply that achievements are worthless. They’re not. You certainly grow from hard work, and it is nice to be admired. If you can prove to yourself that you are capable, that is even more valuable than proving it to anyone else.

But try to remember that making a name or not making a name is beside the point. You already have a name!

Are Your Trials Shaping You Into Something Beautiful?

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The desert of Southern Utah is my paradise. The shifting, dramatic colors of the slickrock change from orange, to tan, to deepest red. Slot canyons and hidden nooks abound, and it’s thrilling to simply be at such a place.

I had the opportunity recently to spend three days on a houseboat with my family at Lake Powell (courtesy of my parents). My husband and I drove down from Idaho, and my mood rose with the heat the further south we traveled. (Since the AC doesn’t work consistently in our car, we most assuredly felt the heat!) As the landscape turned more forbidding, it became more amazing.

That first night on the lake, I was awake at 3 am while everyone else slept. I looked out over the smooth water and saw the reflection of the moon and millions of stars nestled within the soft silhouette of sandstone cliffs. The only sound other than that of breathing was the sound of fish jumping every few minutes.

I pondered.

That place, that hot and harsh part of the  country has always lured me in, even if my life circumstances have kept me away for years. I wondered how such a place could be beautiful and inviting when it is so hostile to life. Most of us couldn’t last more than a day or  two out there under the summer sun without water!

Why the appeal, then?

I realized that Southern Utah is beautiful precisely because of its harshness. Its beauty and brutality are inextricably linked.

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All those cliffs and rocks used to be a solid layer of ancient stone buried in the ground under other layers of stone. Then the shifting earth forced it to the surface. I can’t pretend to totally understand the forces of geology that brought it up, but I do know that once it was there, the stone was exposed to a hot sun, relentless winds, and seasonal rains. These forces blasted that stone with an endless abuse that would change it forever.

Rivers would gouge out canyons, meandering deeper and deeper with the passing years. Tiny pieces of sentiment carried in the air would pound out fins and fissures and arches, creating whorls and crevices and gullies. Flash floods would tear up trees that had dared to put down roots in the shifting sands.

The entire landscape is one of desolation, devastation. We humans are reminded of our mortality when we venture there. Yet it is too soul-bolstering to stay away!

Maybe it’s because we each have to face devastating harhness in our own private landscapes. We too get washed out by personal flash floods and hammered constantly by what should be tiny difficulties—but which add up to relentless trials.

Debt. Loss. Illness. Pain. Loneliness. Regret. Fear of not being adequate.

I know all of these trials and more, and sometimes they seem too much to bear. But maybe I’ve been thinking of it all wrong.

I want to be Southern Utah! Let all the gouging, painful, horrible experiences of life shape me into a new form—a better me. Maybe you simply cannot become the beautiful person you were intended to be without the harsh contouring that comes from struggle.

We can never hold back the wind and rain or stop the glaring sun from baking the land, but perhaps we can get a little better at embracing the process that is turning us into something thrilling. I want to be the sort of person that bolsters other people’s souls.