I watched a webinar recently, presented by Juliet Adams, about wellbeing and what authentic happiness is. And it really got me thinking, especially during lockdown and this pandemic. Essentially there are three contributors to authentic happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.
This focuses on positive emotions and aims to increase it, or simply focuses on simple things. This can be past (gratitude, pleasant memories), present (joy, love), or future (excitement, hope). The webinar talked of emotions acting as signals, like traffic lights. They can be negative and positive.
Negative emotions or traffic lights indicate stop, danger, that action is needed, or one must be ready and alert. We pay more attention to negative emotions and negative traffic lights to help us survive, which explains why negative emotions are heavier and last longer. For example, a driver can cut you up or you may be stuck at traffic lights.
Positive emotions or traffic lights indicate one is heading towards the right direction and to continue moving forwards. Positive emotions and positive traffic lights are lighter and shorter, so it takes us longer to notice good things. For example, sitting in a warm car or finding a parking spot. We can override the negative traffic lights by intentionally noticing good things. For me, my gratitude journal helps me intentionally notice good things.
When fully engaged, one is in a state of flow. Colloquially known as “being in the zone”. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihályi created a flow model (shown below). The flow channel is where challenge or demands are at (or just above) current level of skill. Not the most perfect model and certainly not without its flaws, but a good visual representation of engagement. I feel this translates well when we think of school or work.
In service of something bigger and beyond the immediate self, meaning provides context that motivates us. Something we really want at a heart felt level that provides purpose. It could be developing relationships, contributing to society (volunteering), or striving for excellence (a job, skill, travel, adventure, or creativity).
The webinar stated that if life’s purpose is clear then there is meaning. Or one can find or make meaning. Finding meaning can connect an event to a pre-existing belief such as becoming a parent, and is more likely to come from a positive event. Making meaning can be engaging in a constructive process to come to a sense of meaning such as figuring out why something happened and what it means. This is more likely to come from a negative event.
Discovering your purpose can take many different forms. You can listen to yourself and do some soul searching via journaling, meditating, or speaking to someone you trust. You can identify passions, values, and goals that become common ideas. You can take action every day: if you are inspired or connected to what sparks joy then you feel more motivated to what lights you up.
Purpose can be achieved in many ways and you can define your own success. The webinar ended stating that success is about living life on purpose. No one can tell you what that purpose is or what you should be doing, so don’t live life by someone else’s definition of purpose. I found this really inspirational, not because I had particularly found a purpose but that (naturally) each person’s purpose in life really is different.