In this talk, Seligman is talking about three kinds of happiness and how they work in human beings: A pleasurable happiness, where you have good feelings and good things happen to you. A “flow” happiness, where you are engaged with your environment in a productive way. And a meaning happiness, where something you are doing or involved with has a higher meaning that drives you. I don’t know if he’s written a book that focuses more on the material in this talk, but man, it blew me away. It was all I could do to keep soaping up, because I kept forgetting that I was supposed to be getting done with my shower and back to all the other stuff I had to do today.
What this imprinted on me was something I’ve been noodling with for a long time; happiness is not necessarily made of leisure, and it doesn’t have to only be made of meaning—it can be made of engagement of self, something that I’ve always found intensely rewarding and enjoyable, and often wondered, in passing, if there was something wrong with me. Meaning is the most powerful part of any pursuit, and pleasure is pleasurable, but engagement is no can of beans—in fact, Seligman says that in terms of producing significant, lasting happiness, meaning is first and engagement is second. Pleasure produces happiness, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to the other two in terms of effect and results. This fascinates the hell out of me, as it ought to, since I get a lot of flack for not relaxing enough.
Not to say that I shouldn’t relax more—I should. We need balance. Our brains need recharge time. But still, interesting, right? My happiness is primarily in meaning and engagement, like he says, though engagement for me is the thrill of the chase—I sometimes think it’s more important to me than meaning, but of course that’s not true, since the only things that truly engage me are the ones that have great meaning to me. It’s just that the meaning is not always the most overt part of the equation.
Where’s your happiness at?