Happiness is more than just pleasure.
Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder and leading authority in the field of positive psychology, identified three types of happiness: the pleasant life, the good life and the meaningful life.
The pleasant life is achieved by hedonism, pursuing the pleasures of life.
The good life focuses on eudaimonia, pursuing personal growth and development of our strengths. The goal is to live your values and reach your full potential.
The meaningful life is about contributing to something bigger than yourself. The meaningful life focuses on others, and making a difference in their lives.
I believe that the happiest life is the one that combines all three of these approaches in a balanced way.
Pleasurable experiences feel good, but they may not always be good for us in the long run. We need to be able to control our impulses and delay gratification to be able to grow and feel truly free.
The pleasant life shifts the focus from one point in time (present moment) to the long term. The meaningful life adds a different kind of depth, shifting the focus from one person to many people.
But the meaningful life wouldn’t be effective on its own. You can’t give what you don’t have. Improving your skills increases your capacity to help others.
And without experiencing some kind of positive emotions, our efforts wouldn’t be sustainable. Positive emotions also expand our awareness, help us learn more quickly and improve our relationships with others.
So, to me, it seems like there is no single best approach. Instead, we should try to identify the right combination of different approaches and redesign our lives in a way that allows us to experience all three qualities: pleasure, meaningfulness and flourishing.