Sure, I was interested in the name of the painting, who painted it, and the year in which it was completed. But I mostly wanted to know one thing. I wanted to know how long the artist lived. I was always relieved and happy when I saw that the artist had lived a long life, and I was disappointed when I saw it had been a short one. For as long as I can remember I thought a good life was a long life. Positive Psychology helped change my thinking.
Psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi co-founded Positive Psychology when Seligman was president of the American Psychological Association in 1998. Seligman was celebrated for his research on “learned helplessness” and “learned optimism,” while Csikszentmihalyi was best known for his research on “flow,” and for his best-selling book by the same name. Both men set Psychology on a course to discover what made people happy and thrive in life. They wanted to know what made up the “good life.”The results of countless research studies that followed the launch of Positive Psychology led Seligman to conclude that there were three approaches to the good life. And they were all important. When you savor the present, are grateful for the past, and are hopeful for the future, you are experiencing positive emotion, the first component of happiness. When you do what you do best, when you use your signature strengths in your life’s work, you are engaged; this is the second contributor to happiness. And when you are involved in activities that are beyond your self-interest, and that you believe matter to the world, you are experiencing the third and final component of the good life: your life is full of meaning.
While genetics do play a role in affecting our happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research has demonstrated that as much as 50% of our happiness is within our direct control. The headline here is that the good life is possible; it’s within our grasp, and it is not measured only by the number of years we live.My little girls helped me learn this lesson last year. Dawn and I took Eliana and Ariela, 3 and 2 at the time, to a museum of butterflies in Key West.
When we entered the museum through a special pressurized entrance, we were immediately surrounded by thousands of butterflies, all flapping their multi-colored wings. My girls were thrilled! I turned to our Museum guide and asked, “How long do butterflies live?” She said, “About ten days.” I thought to myself, “Ten days – what do you do in ten days?!” So I blurted out, “What do they do in ten days?!” And she stopped, paused, and said, “They make the world a more beautiful place.”
Every day I now ask myself, “How am I making the world a more beautiful place?” A long life is good; a good life is better.