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What exactly is Happiness?

Martin Seligman defined Happiness as being divided into three ways:

a/ A positive emotion and satisfaction (the pleasant life);

b/ Engagement (the engaged life);

c/ Meaning (the meaningful life).

Recent research by Martin Seligman and others (2005) found that the happiest people were those who applied all three strategies mentioned above, but most people had increasing happiness through engagement and meaning.

Seligman stated that happy people are healthier, more successful, and more connected to others socially.

Research carried out by Seligman and colleagues was carried out over a one-month period, including 42% male and 58% female who were aged between 35 and 54 years. Most of them had a degree, were well-educated, and had average levels of income.

The interventions used to measure happiness levels included:

1/ A gratitude visit – participants had one week to write a letter and then deliver the letter of gratitude in person to someone who was generous to them in the past.

2/ Three Good Things – participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and why they went well (causal explanation).

3/ You at your best. – Participants were asked to write a story of a time when they were at their best and identify personal strengths shown in the event. They reviewed their story daily for one week and focused on the identified strengths used.

4/ Using signature strengths in a new way. Participants were told to take the test to determine strengths online at www.authentichappiness.org and to get individual feedback about their top five strengths (signature). They were told to use these five strengths in a new way each day for one week.

5/ Identifying signature strengths – Participants took the strengths survey, focused on their top five strengths, and had to use them more regularly over the following week.

Results of the Interventions above

Two of the above interventions – using signature strengths in a new way and three good things showed an increase in happiness levels and a decrease in symptoms of depression for six months. The gratitude visit showed positive change for one month. The exercises that continued beyond the one week period showed long-term benefits in happiness levels.

What caused the long-term benefits?

According to Seligman and colleagues, they theorised that ongoing practice of an intervention would lead to long-term benefits to happiness levels. Of particular importance were how engaged or absorbed people get on a task and the meaning or purpose assigned to it.

In conclusion, Seligman and other researchers found that writing about three good things that had occurred daily and why they had occurred, as well as using signature strengths in a new way daily increased happiness levels for up to six months after the research.

If you have an interest in positive psychology and happiness, check out the website above.