I just finished the first section of Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness. He is on the Mount Rushmore of Positive Psychology and he and his stone-headed brothers think they have the ingredients of the ‘Good life” down to an equation; and its pretty damn compelling. The pursuit of Positive Psychology is to focus the insights of scientific psychology not on how we are broken and sick, but on how we can thrive. The crowning jewel of the Positive Psychology field is the Happiness Equation.

H = S + C + V

The main elements here are Happiness, Set Range, Conditions, and the golden apple; voluntary activities. Some of the science is counterintuitive and surprising, but taking the time and effort to deconstruct and examine this equation reveals a scientifically supported guide to thriving. Take the time and make the effort.

Enduring Happiness

The H stands for enduring happiness. This is not how you feel today, reading this sentence, rather, this represents your overall happiness with life. Your happiness is a culmination of S, C, and V. Our Happiness is hackable. Understanding this equation is the key.

Set Point

This variable is the least hopeful. We each have a genetic set point that our happiness moves between. The common metaphor is that of a thermostat. We each have a subjective max and low, mine is likely between 5-9, but others may be 4-7. Someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder may have a set point between 2-9. This variable is the least hopeful because it is not improvable.

An interesting finding regarding our set points is how god damn durable they are. The most famous study exemplifying this is the lottery winner and the paraplegic.

Say we test two people’s H (Enduring Happiness) today, we get there scores and write them down. Susan and Bill’s lives both drastically change tomorrow. Susan wins the lottery and Bill is struck by a truck and is paralyzed from the neck down. If we test the lottery winner and the quadriplegic the day after their life-altering events, the lottery winner’s happiness will be sky high and the paraplegic’s understandably low. Yet, when we retest them 2 years later, their happiness is back to where it was the day before their significant events.

The why here is the Hedonic Treadmill. The human animal will soon get used to whatever becomes a constant in their lives, and their genetic thermostat will see to it that they are back within their range. This is rosey for the naturally high set-pointers and thorny for the low set-pointers.

But, I’m focused on the pragmatic aspect of all this science. I’, concerned with what we can change to improve our lives. There are ways to keep our experiences at the higher end of our set point, and we will explore how.

Circumstances

Our circumstances are a little more flexible than our set point, but not extremely. Our circumstances are our gender, the country we live in, the socioeconomic caste we live in, our health, and where we work. You’ll find it difficult to change your gender or the country you live in, but if you live in America; you have a good amount of autonomy in improving your health, where you work, and your socioeconomic condition.

Circumstances don’t affect our H drastically. The famous example here is about yearly income. Income and happiness rise together until about $40-60,000 per year. Subsequent rise in money does not affect happiness. The finding here is that money improves happiness only inasmuch as it provides the individual security and freedom. Changing your circumstances is not the most effective way to increase the overall level of your enduring happiness.

(However, if you wanted to focus on changing a C to improve your H, focus on relationships. The science is overwhelming and clear, strong relationships improve H more than any other condition. Try writing a gratitude letter to a friend and read it to them, or pick a day to go to a church of homeless center and hand out food or practical items like socks or toilet paper. You will feel measurably better.)

Voluntary Activities 

We have found the holy grail. Gather ’round Knights of the Good Life, and drink. The most effective way to improve the quality of your life is to focus on your voluntary activities. And the most important voluntary activities we can invest in are the ones that provide Flow. How to create flow in your life is the subject of the entire second part of Seligman’s book, and seeing as I haven’t read it yet, there will not be much to report yet. But, I can give the components of flow and offer a few examples (Thanks to spellcheck, I am in flow state as I write this.)

Components of Flow

  • The task is challenging and requires skill
  • We concentrate
  • There are clear goals
  • We get immediate feedback
  • We have deep, effortless involvement
  • There is a sense of control
  • Our sense of self vanishes
  • Time stops

The next couple of posts will go into greater detail of flow, but here are some examples of flow activities

  • writing
  • sex
  • having an intimate conversation
  • playing a sport
  • playing an instrument
  • reading a good book
  • closing a challenging deal at work

The technique Dr. Haidt offers, as well as the founder of Positive Psychology, Dr. Seligman, is to take the VIA Strengths Survey, and use the your top five strengths as guides for what flow activities to start implementing in your life.

This is the holy grail because we have supreme autonomy over what our voluntary activities are, and implementing them into our lives will keep us at the upper range of your happiness set point. You have influence over how you feel. Enjoy the improvements that will come.

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Thank you to those who have made it this far. I wish you safe and enlightening explorations. Namasteezy.