“You have a wonderful happiness re-set button,” a friend told me the other day, when I described to her how high my spirits are in our new nest, in our new town, and in our new life.
A happiness re-set button? I was intrigued. I went looking for some of the recent thinking and research on the subject of happiness.
I learned two secrets to happiness. A big “why” and a “big story”.
- Make the “why” of your life big, juicy, important and consequential
- Keep telling a better, stronger, bolder and “bigger story” about your life’s journey
How did I learn these two secrets?
Let us start with the “why” of life.
The psychologist Martin Seligman tells us that there are three different lifestyles from which people derive a sense of happiness: The Pleasant Life, the Engaged Life and the Meaningful Life.
- The Pleasant Life is centered around having nice “stuff”: a nice house, a nice car, nice clothes, nice toys, nice experiences. It’s nice. But it is subject to the process of habituation. Just like with ice cream. One lick, it is great…two licks, it is good….. six licks, and we do not taste the flavor anymore. So we continuously want more and different.
- The Engaged Life is centered around our passions, our work, our art, our hobby. In the Engaged Life we embrace our passions with our full attention and commitment. Our well-being in the Engaged Life centers around the experience of “flow.” In the state of “flow” we are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and spontaneous enjoyment. The psychologist Csiksentmihalyi says that “flow” is the “ultimate experience in harnessing our emotions in the service of performing and learning.”
- The Meaningful Life is centered around being dedicated to something much bigger than we are, a big vision on the horizon for our marriage, for our family, for our community, for our world. Our heart and soul are engaged in a higher purpose. Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning tells us: “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.” Viktor Frankl adds: “Those who have a “why” to live for, can bear almost any “how.”
So I learned that happiness is not necessarily a feel-good life, but rather happiness is a deeply rooted sense of well-being, based on a meaningful life, on a big “why.”
But what about telling a big story? How does our narrative contribute to our sense of well-being?
Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize winning economist and psychologist, tells us that we have two selves. We have the “experiencing self,” who lives in the moment, moment by moment. The “experiencing self” is the specialist of the “now”. Our second self is the “remembering self,” who right away takes hold of our moment by moment experience, and tells a story. The “remembering self” is the specialist of story telling. Our happiness Daniel Kahneman says greatly depends on how the “remembering self” constructs our story. No matter what the themes of our experiences are, when our “remembering self” imbues our story with richness, with significance and with sacredness, the big story nourishes our well-being.
So let me tell you the story of Yumi and Hedy:
“Once upon a time a loving couple found themselves on a ship in the middle of the ocean, in a terrible, wild and dangerous storm. There was winds, waves, thunder, lightning, darkness. The husband, tired, weak, fragile, ailing could not hold the helm. But he had been such a wonderful role model of leadership for his wife that she could rally. They were at sea for a long time. But always in their consciousness they saw the harbor welcoming them. Their constant goal was: “We will bring this ship home”. And indeed, they did. The ship has entered into the harbor. The couple is safe in a nest, surrounded by family and friends. And with the “muscle” that they developed from their adventure at sea, and from their brush with death, they feel better equipped for an even bigger and more daring life journey.”
How would you tell the story of YOU?