Friday, June 15, 2007

How to be happy

A few months ago I heard a radio interview with the psychologist Dr Martin Seligman, who forty years ago researched 'learned helplessness', and in more recent times has turned his hand to exploring 'authentic happiness'. Asked to sum up what makes us happy, in a nutshell, he said 'having someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to'.

Exploring Dr Seligman’s web site to expand on these ideas, I seized on the following quote: 'our theory holds that there are three distinct kinds of happiness: the Pleasant Life (pleasures), the Good Life (engagement), and the Meaningful Life. The first two are subjective, but the third is at least partly objective and lodges in belonging to and serving what is larger and more worthwhile than the just the self's pleasures and desires'. Well, yeah! For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been a big believer in volunteering, both as a way to 'make the world a better place', and because giving feels good. I’ve volunteered in a wide range of organisations and roles, and I think the key to a satisfying volunteer experience is to feel as if you’re contributing.

Living a 'meaningful life', as Martin Seligman would have it! Happiness seems to have been in the news a lot lately, and you often hear the question asked 'if we are so rich, why aren’t we happy?' Sounds like a silly question to me, as why SHOULD rich = happy? Keeping up with the Joneses is a mug’s game. If you want more self-worth, do something worthy. Volunteer ;-)

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