13 Facts any Intelligent Person Needs to Know About Happiness

December 11, 2018

Reading time: 2 minutes

As promised — here is your quick primer on Positive Psychology, and why I think it matters. Positive Psychology is a special field popularized by Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania . . .

Seligman defines the field as, “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” And Wikipedia: “Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, ‘the good life,’ reflection about what holds the greatest value in life—the factors that contribute most to a well-lived and fulfilling life.”

Positive Psychology is where psychology—a science—meets self-help theories, secular religion, and the “power of positive thinking,” and subjects them to the scientific method.
 
According to an article in Psychology Today, here are the take-always: 

  1. Most people are happy.
  2. Happiness causes good things to happen in life. 
  3. Happiness, strength of character, and good social relationships buffer you against the damaging effects of disappointment and setbacks.
  4. A person’s true character shows up in crisis. 
  5. Other people matter mightily with regard to having a good life. 
  6. Religion makes for a more satisfying life.
  7. Work should provide you with meaning and a sense of purpose. 
  8. Money doesn’t significantly contribute to well-being.
  9. Money only buys happiness when you give it away to others.
  10. With regard to living a satisfying life, eudaimonia trumps hedonism.
  11. The “heart” (kindness) matters more than the “head” (cleverness). 
  12. A good day has these features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
  13. The good life can be taught—and, therefore, learned. 

Positive Psychology can help you see through some dangerous misunderstandings. 

Especially in consumer culture which has created a lot of confusion around happiness. We are constantly being encouraged to think that fulfillment of our hedonic needs—that stimulating the pleasure centers of our brain—is equivalent to happiness. But this is not true. 

In this succinct 2004 TED video, Dr. Seligman distinguishes between three kinds of happiness: (1) hedonic, (2) eudemonic, and (3) happiness that comes from living a meaningful life. In Seligman’s view, all three are important, but special emphasis is placed on (2) and (3) — even more than the need for a romantic relationship —  as key to living a fulfilling life.  
 
In the coming weeks, we’ll move beyond Positive Psychology and look at happiness more deeply: especially the ways in which we might cultivate a higher Good, the importance of such cultivation, what threatens our best instincts, how to protect them from deteriorating, and how different mental models and beliefs affect our lives.