Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, has deduced that there are 3 overarching elements of a good life.
It should be noted that we all live elements of each of these lifestyles to varying degrees; it is the balance and differing extents to which we live the three types which has an impact on our overall happiness/contentment/satisfaction:
1. The pleasurable lifestyle
This describes the day-to-day pleasures that we seek, which bring about ‘short-lasting’ bursts of pleasure.
e.g. Buying a nice watch / handbag, eating a tasty cheeseburger / dessert
Though we need such pleasures, and these are healthy in the right doses, this form of lifestyle can give rise to the ‘hedonic treadmill’ – unlike the treadmill you’d find in the gym, the hedonic treadmill isn’t a great one to find yourself on.
2. The engaging lifestyle
This describes the experience you feel when you are so engrossed in something that you completely lose yourself in it. Quite often, time passes so quickly that it seems to disappear – minutes and hours will seem to be pass by very quickly.
e.g. The feeling that musicians experience when they say that they are composing/playing a piece of music.
These experience can be defined as ‘flow’ experiences (one often finds themselves ‘in the zone’ or ‘in their element’).
Such experiences are wonderful, not just at the time but when you think about them retrospectively.
Unlike with the ‘pleasurable lifestyle’, one often reports a longer-lasting sense of feeling good for some time afterwards, as well as at the time.
3. The meaningful lifestyle
This describes actions we take that are truly meaningful to us, which often make us feel that we are serving a purpose true to ourselves and our core values, and something which is often “bigger than ourselves” (i.e. In the service of others). Increasingly, science and research is showing that, as humans, we have a hard-wired ‘need’ to serve others, as well as ourselves.
e.g. An author writing a children’s book, which he/she knows will make the children happy and contribute to their brain development
Or, when we spend a day volunteering, helping the community in some way
Now here’s the big secret…
Though ‘happiness’ is comprised of elements of all 3 lifestyles, the ‘engaged ‘and ‘meaningful’ lifestyles are the ones that give rise to the most true and long-lasting happiness – this is shown by the science of positive psychology (through the works of Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).
The moral of the story? One should put the most focus on engagement and meaning, rather than pure pleasure.