Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology work led to a plethora of research, books, and new thinking about happiness. What is happiness, though? Before you read on, stop for a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath and bring to mind the last time you were happy, really happy. Now that you have the memory, bring that happy memory alive by feeling once again the embodied feel of that happy memory. What does happiness feel like in your body? Is there an excitement in your belly? A warmth radiating from your heart? A desire to wiggle your limbs around like a delighted infant? Or is something else happening for you as you recall happiness? Can you hold the feelings of happiness for 15 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute or more? What do you notice when you hold the positive feelings?
From your own little happiness experiment you may have learned that you can create and hold a feeling of happiness from memory alone. You may have resisted feeling happy and decided the exercise was stupid and read on. You may have wavered between happiness and readiness to move on to the next moment. Whatever happened for you, it becomes clear over time that happiness is a subjective experience felt inside the body. What makes you happy, may leave someone else feeling bored and vice versa. Some things make you happy for a while, but the glow fades with time.
Returning to the happy memory you generated in the first paragraph, what conditions do you notice that created that happy time? Are these conditions that you can have more of? What made that occasion special? Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing?
We will all always experience ups and downs as life events, hormones, and other physical and external processes play with our emotions and mood. Sometimes being angry, depressed, sad and despairing is the healthiest response to our life and our world. I am all for acknowledging our pain, fear, and all other emotions that come calling. Everything that comes our way is a teacher and guide. And at the same time, there is a usefulness in developing practices that increase our positive feelings and allow us to feel happy. One of those practices is the one you did at the beginning of this post: generating and holding a happy memory and feeling the happiness inside the body. This is a start. There’s much more to lean into around the happiness literature. For a start I suggest you look at the works of Ricard, Lyubormirsky, Ruiz. I’d love to read your comments on this post!