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This week, I want to talk about happiness.  More specifically, I want to talk about what you are linking your happiness to.

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The biggest problem is we often assign contentment to the end point of a goal. I’ll be happy (or content) when I save $10,000 or I’ll be happy when I lose 5 lbs, I’ll be happy when I win a race, I’ll be happy when I go on vacation.  I’ll be happy when I buy a house.  The first problem is that our happiness is outcome based.  We’ll only be happy if we achieve a certain result.  The second problem with this is that even if you do achieve the outcome, your brain will rapidly recalibrate to a new normal.  We’ve all progressed and met goals that we thought would make us happy, but when we get there, it’s often not as amazing as we had hoped or we don’t feel that contentment we were hoping for. We also look at other people who have more of whatever it is we are striving to obtain and automatically assign that they are happier than us.  Not the case.

We are on a quest to feel fulfilled, to feel happy, to feel content. But what does that even mean?!  Have you ever sat down and tried to define what happiness means to you? Our dictionary defines happiness as showing pleasure or contentment. Aristotle used the word eudaimonia to describe the feeling of happiness. It’s a greek word that translates to human flourishing or blessedness.

We often hear “focus on the process and fall in love with the process, don’t think about the outcome.”  I do love this advice and it’s something I often remind myself to remember.  I can personally think of things I’ve achieved where I’d say “I’ll be happy when…” but that happiness is short-lived.  Being happy working towards doing something, doing your best, and focusing on daily steps to improve are great ways to feel more fulfilled.  BUT! There’s an even better way I found to talk about happiness and define happiness.

Martin Seligman is a pioneer of positive psychology and  created a Theory of Authentic Happiness. Look him up if you want to read some fo his books.  The Theory of Authentic Happiness defines happiness with three elements: positive emotion, engagement, meaning. We need all three. To get deeper: positive emotion is what we feel (pleasure, proud, etc).  Engagement is achieving a state of  “flow” or concentrated attention. And meaning refers to belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.  This way of defining happiness really resonated with me: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning because a lot of them weren’t just an end state or an outcome.  We achieve flow or concentrated attention just by being focused on one thing.  A deliberate presence- everyone get there in different ways, but it’s based on action, not the end result of the action.  I like meaning as a sense of purpose to help others because again, it’s not specifically outcome based, but actions you take on a daily basis to give your life meaning.  There may be gold stars, podiums, promotions, or more money that might come along the way as a result of these actions, but they don’t push happiness to when we get those things. And positive emotion- well who doesn’t like that!  Try to think of times this week when you experience positive emotions and then try to figure out what they were linked to.

For me, positive emotions are often linked to improvement (getting better on a technical section), or knowing that something I’m doing is really helping somebody, or being around people that make me feel more love.

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