Recently I’ve been noticing the connection between happiness, positive perspective taking, well-being, health and overall vitality in the clients with whom I have been working. There is a common thread between those that are finding a path through whatever ails them; depression, anxiety, stress, health problems, eating disorders, relationship difficulties and the like, and those that struggle or report feeling continually lost. This does not necessarily mean the absence of problems, but rather a maintained sense of purpose.
There are many theories posited on the deep importance of meaning and value in life. Authors, philosophers, poets and shaman have been discussing the inherent human need for meaning, connection, and engagement for centuries. In more recent times, Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has developed a positive psychology model using the acronym PERMA as new theoretical basis for well-being and happiness. The PERMA traits are commonly present with those who are learning to live well, regardless of circumstance.
Positive emotional experiencing has been suggested as the most important ingredient for overall well-being. Now, of course, we all experience the ebbs and flows of daily emotions, and by no means does this suggest that we are meant to only feel happiness 100% of the time. That simply is not realistic. Positive emotions means cultivating a sense of overall emotional well-being in your life. Being fully aware when positive emotions are present. Letting go of regret. Not dwelling in negative experiences or perceived past failures. Remaining in contact with the present moment. Generating hope about your ability to live well today and strive towards a healthy, happy future.
We tend to struggle when we are sitting idly for long periods of time, disengaged from life, bored with our surroundings. Engagement is a process in which we become fully absorbed in our current activity – at work, at home, with others. Engagement also suggests connectedness to activities in which are deeply personal and cultivate a sense of well-being.
We are social beings, needing the comfort, friendship, physical and emotional support of others. Relationships that are positive, nurturing, and provide a sense of connection are crucial to our overall well-being.
Having a purposeful existence is a key concept in well-being. This typically involves a sense of connection to something or some purpose bigger than your own life. Connection to community, giving back, dedicating time for a purpose or cause, engaging in fulfilling work are all ways in which we connect to meaning.
Connecting to a sense of achievement and accomplishment is a key component of happiness. This can involve attaining educational or career goals, completing projects around the house or within the community, or tackling athletic achievements. The content of accomplishment matters to a much smaller degree than the overall sense that you are working towards, and ultimately completing tasks that are important in your life.