The Advancement of Positive Psychology
In the last couple of decades, there has been an ongoing interest in happiness. Hundreds of books and studies have emerged to guide us toward living a “good life”, but achieving personal happiness is only one part of the equation.
Positive psychology is the study of the “good life”, or the positive aspects of the human experience that make life worth living. As an art, it focuses on both individual and societal well-being.
Dr. Christopher Peterson has defined positive psychology as the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. This means studying human thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, with a focus on strengths rather than weaknesses, building a good life instead of repairing the bad, and helping average people transition from a good to then a great lifestyle.
Positive psychology focuses on the positive events and influences in life, including:
1 — Positive experiences (i.e. happiness, joy, inspiration, and love)
2 — Positive states and traits (i.e. gratitude, resilience, and compassion)
3 — Positive institutions (i.e. applying positive principles)
What is Sustainable Happiness?
When happiness is partnered with well-being and sustainability it takes on a whole new dimension: sustainable happiness.
Let’s break down the word into two parts (Sustainable and Happiness) and define them separately.
Sustainable is defined as “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”.
If something is sustainable, then it can be maintained or continued. For example, a 4-minute mile pace probably is not sustainable for anyone, unless you are like
Nick Symmonds, an Olympic marathon runner for Team USA.
Happiness is defined as “the state of being happy.”
Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness. People feel happiness for different reasons. Whenever doing something makes you feel happy, you usually want to do more of it.
Sustainable happiness is defined as “happiness that contributes to individual, community or global well-being and does not exploit other people, the environment, or future generations.”
The concept of sustainable happiness was created by Dr. Catherine O’Brien, an Associate professor of the Department of Education at Cape Breton University.
Sustainable happiness is about striving towards well-being for all. That means we are mindful of our own well-being and how it is interconnected with the well-being of other people and the natural world. Learning about sustainable happiness and exploring how to practice it on a daily basis can enhance your well-being while also having a positive impact on other people and the biosphere.
For example, if we consider the many choices that we have on a daily basis that could contribute to, or detract from, our well-being we can see that we have countless opportunities to discover sustainable happiness. We could consider where our food comes from if we are eating a healthy diet if we are physically active if we could walk or cycle for short destinations. Something as simple as a cup of coffee illustrates this beautifully. We may have many positive emotions associated with having a cup of coffee, especially if we are mindful of the taste, aroma, sounds around us, the people we are with, and so forth. That single cup of coffee connects to other people and the environment. If the coffee is fair trade or something like that where people who produced it were paid fairly and care was taken with the environment, and we are drinking from a reusable cup — then those positive emotions associated with that cup of coffee are an example of sustainable happiness.
Sustainable happiness can lead to a more sustainable lifestyle and greater life satisfaction — and sometimes it’s right at your fingertips. Other times it involves reawakening to the joy that comes from simple pleasures or generating options for a lifestyle change.
Here is how you can move towards a sustainable happiness lifestyle:
1. Have a Winning Attitude of Gratitude Mindset
Teaching yourself to become more grateful can make a huge difference in your overall happiness. The research shows that gratitude helps you experience more positive emotions, decrease depression, feel better about yourself, improve your relationships, and strengthen your immune system. A recent study revealed that gratitude even makes you smarter about how you spend your money.
According to happiness experts, gratitude and appreciation are associated with happiness and life satisfaction. Having appreciation brings us into the present. Examples can include; taking a few seconds to feel the warmth of a winter’s sun on your face, being mindful of the street art in your city, or the delicious aroma of coffee wafting from the kitchen. Allowing yourself to absorb and appreciate the moment can be an antidote to stress.
2. Embrace Your Natural Highs to Feel Good
A natural high comes from any activity that makes you feel good — but doesn’t involve drugs. Doing things you enjoy, like riding your skateboard or dabbling in photography, releases natural “feel-good” chemicals in your brain like dopamine, which regulates movement, emotion, motivation, and pleasure. Tuning in to your natural highs alone could bring you hundreds of daily experiences of delight and contentment.
Here are some ways you can achieve dopamine levels naturally without disrupting your pleasure center in a negative way:
Meditation — When you mediate your body becomes aware of itself, you relax and free the mind. This allows you to feel calm and pleasurable. Dopamine is released when pleasure is felt.
Exercise — We do not call it a “runner’s high” for no reason. Exercise has an anti-depressive effect, releases endorphins, and taps into your brain’s pleasure center. It’s also a stress reliever, but exercise can also become addictive.
Enjoy Music — According to the New York Times, when you listen to music, dopamine is released in the striatum. Not only is dopamine released when the music comes to a climactic moment, but you experience an anticipation phase seconds before this time. This is why you feel good while listening to music.
Finishing a Book — Reading a book that you just can’t put down is satisfying, but there is nothing more satisfying than completing the book. Dopamine is released when we complete simple tasks that we get to check off the list.
3. Build Genuine Wealth to Enhance Your Well-Being
Mark Anielski developed the practical economic model called Genuine Wealth. The goal of this model is to measure the real determinants of well-being and help redefine progress.
Genuine is defined as “authentic, real, natural, true or pure”.
To be genuine means to live in accordance with the values that make life worth living. If our measures of progress and performance align with what we value most, then we have a hope of measuring what matters to our well-being.
Wealth can be defined as “the condition of well-being” or “the condition of being happy and prosperous”.
Wealth is much more than financial and material things. Your wealth is the measure of the total value of all the things you have in your life that you care about. The things that make your life the kind of life you want to live: people, ideas, material things, purpose, legacy, service, health, and yes, money.
To develop Genuine Wealth, you must improve the conditions of your well-being in accordance with your values or the shared values of the community. A genuinely wealthy community is one that has articulated its values and lives life accordingly. Such communities work in a spirit of collective and shared responsibility or stewardship to ensure that the various conditions of well-being that add to the quality of life are flourishing, vibrant, life-giving, and sustainable for current and future generations.
Once you begin to draw on these sustainable happiness choices, you will likely discover that there are many new lifestyle choices that you can make.
In a consumer-based society, we are constantly being bombarded with messages that associate happiness with material consumption rather than with healthy relationships. It can be a wonderful sense of freedom to actively choose a life of sustainable happiness.
It is an ongoing adventure as we can explore our relationship with food, make time for the people we care about, practice self-care, volunteer in our community, spend more time in natural environments, and so much more!
This post was previously published on Medium.
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