I believe his theory of happiness gives us a useful guide for making sure that we are indeed doing what is most likely to make us truly happy.
His book, Authentic Happiness combines three aspects of happiness to create a complete and comprehensive theory of happiness. Seligman describes these as three types of ‘Life:’
The Pleasant Life is about seeking pleasure. It’s what has been traditionally known as Hedonism but might also be called ‘Hollywood Happiness,’ in which indulgence is key.
The Good Life is about goal attainment and getting what you want. This might be a new car or new home, or it might be winning a contest or even ending an unhappy relationship. If it’s something you set out to achieve and you achieve it, you are on your way to the Good Life.
The Meaningful Life is a life in which you achieve feats that might objectively be considered worthwhile. This might include career accomplishment, friendship, safety, health, education, community involvement, love, knowledge and a good conscience.
According to Seligman, what we want to attain is the Full Life; a life which satisfies all three of these criteria for happiness.
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Are you on your way to the Full Life?
Is your solo pursuit providing you with what you need to attain the Full Life? Try this exercise to plan for a Full Life:
Take a piece of paper and draw a large circle. Divide the circle into three segments, labelling one segment ‘The Pleasant Life,’ one ‘The Good Life’ and one ‘The Meaningful Life.’ You might like to put a title at the top of the page, something like ‘My Solo Pursuit: The Full Life.’
Now list within each segment what you are planning to do this year to meet the criteria for that type of happiness. For example, you might decide that your goal for the Pleasant Life is to have a massage once a week and to indulge in good wine at least once a month. For the Good Life you might plan to save the money required to make a significant purchase during the year; something you have wanted or needed for quite some time. When it comes to the Meaningful Life you might focus your effort on a career accomplishment or lend your professional knowledge and experience to a greater cause.
When you’ve finished your plan, put it somewhere you will see it regularly and use it to remind you of your intention to make this year the year in which you live the Full Life and find true happiness.