Building Blocks of Happiness - Exploring the Essential Ingredients

Smile AM

 Abraham Maslow proposed in 1943 that humans strive to meet a hierarchy of needs; happiness being at the top of this pyramid followed by basic needs like food and water as well as safety and esteem.

Pleasure and happiness are often related, yet pleasure alone doesn't equate to true fulfillment and wellbeing. Happiness stems from engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment rather than mere pleasure.

1. Self-awareness

Self-awareness refers to the practice of being aware of oneself: to recognize and label their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values and behaviors. By becoming more self-aware you can better identify what makes or dissatisfies you in life - thus creating a lifestyle tailored specifically for yourself.

An effective way to deepen your self-awareness is to seek information and perspectives that differ from yours, whether through books, articles, or conversations with friends. Doing this allows you to compare your beliefs against those of others while gaining insights into why you hold onto the beliefs you do. Furthermore, seeking out such perspectives may also help identify emotional triggers like anger and hatred so you can better control them.

Gain more self-awareness by monitoring your own behavior, such as how you spend your time or who you interact with. In addition, taking personality assessments like the DISC assessment may be an invaluable way to gain greater self-awareness.

Happiness relies on having a sense of meaning and purpose, such as volunteering, philanthropy, activism or faith groups that give one their lives purpose and meaning. People engaged with these causes tend to be happier and healthier than those without one.

Finding your sense of meaning and purpose can be achieved simply through engaging in activities you enjoy - whether that's playing sports, writing music, spending time with friends or working on a project at work. No matter what activity is chosen for development purposes, finding one which provides a feeling of flow - an experience of becoming completely absorbed in what you are doing - while making you proud and fulfilled when completed is key to finding meaning and purpose in life.

2. Purpose

An important ingredient to happiness is having a sense of purpose. While its definition remains vague, researchers in positive psychology have begun elaborating upon what makes up a meaningful life and have begun providing some clarity around "purpose." Essentially, "purpose" refers to one or more consistent life goals derived from your unique strengths and interests that provide goals for the future as well as guide current actions while creating connections outside yourself.

Volunteerism, activism or community involvement could all provide us with the sense that we belong and are working towards something larger than ourselves; these activities could include volunteerism, activism or community involvement but could also include work related or spiritual practices. What matters is that they help us feel that sense of meaning which comes with being part of something greater than ourselves - even if this satisfaction doesn't directly translate to flow or any of the other building blocks of wellbeing; instead it may provide that moment when mastering new skills or reaching milestones makes us feel accomplished and complete.

Hill often works with clients to help them articulate their purposes by asking them to reflect back over recent weeks or months and note what things have stood out as particularly meaningful, whether that means taking an old class that still resonates or an interaction with a friend or family member that feels meaningful.

Studies have demonstrated the health advantages of having an authentic sense of purpose. Research from the Rush Memory and Aging Project discovered that people who reported having such a sense of purpose as young adults experienced improved cognitive function later in life - this may be because having purpose gives your future clear direction and offers you sense of direction.

3. Accomplishment

One of the easiest and most enjoyable aspects of life is finding joy from activities that bring pleasure - like eating your favourite food, shopping for essential items or playing your favourite game. But happiness lies not simply in feeling good - rather in gaining a sense of achievement from taking control over one's actions and decisions.

Meaning is the third pillar of happiness and includes any activity which gives us a sense of purpose - such as work, hobbies, community service and other pursuits that help bring satisfaction and fulfilment to us as individuals. Depending on who and what it means for us individually this may mean anything from belonging to an organization with similar goals as ourselves to simply having friends with similar values who share similar goals as us.

Research suggests that feeling of accomplishment is crucial to happiness, even if it doesn't immediately translate to positive emotions or flow, and you can achieve this feeling by working toward goals you truly care about or setting personal bests in physical activities such as sports or games, or by learning something new like learning a skill or language.

Financial security can give you the sense of control and happiness over your future and present, such as working out a budget, volunteering to help others and making plans for your future.

Research indicates that you can increase your levels of PERMA through various techniques, including discovering a character strength that suits you and working towards it, engaging in hobbies you enjoy and performing acts of kindness; visualising yourself being your best possible self; visualising that. However, it's important to remember that happiness varies for different people, so when defining happiness it should include both negative and positive emotions as well as all aspects of human flourishing.

4. Flow

Have you ever found yourself immersed in an activity to the extent that it becomes its own reward? Whether playing sports, enjoying hobbies or working on passion projects, psychologists call this state flow. In essence, flow describes an optimal experience where actions, feelings and performance all meet optimally - sometimes described as being "in the zone", being fully immersed or total absorption with an activity at hand and immediate feedback being available to you from it all.

Psychologer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first observed flow when watching an artist work. He observed that they seemed immune from any discomfort, tiredness or hunger; becoming fully immersed with their painting - an experience which has become synonymous with flow.

To achieve flow, it's essential that you set clear goals and are aware of your progress. In addition, having high skill levels within an activity and matching challenges with skills are necessary; once these conditions exist, an optimal challenge-skill match will occur and produce increased levels of dopamine production within your brain, which helps suppress bodily sensations such as hunger and thirst. A 2021 mini-review states this can lead to feelings of flow.

People can find flow in many activities, from sports and music to dancing and hobbies; cleaning the house or watching television -- as long as the activity doesn't become too easy or hard. Unfortunately, people often don't associate these activities with flow as they don't provide sufficient challenge or instant feedback - yet positive psychology's five building blocks of happiness offer only an initial starting point to find personal paths toward flourishing.

5. Relationships

Humans are hardwired for relationships - they're essential to our survival, happiness and physical and mental wellbeing. Yet many people struggle with poor or toxic relationships in their lives which makes it harder for them to find joy even when doing all the right things in life. Healthy relationships can be developed like any other aspect of your life; just pay attention to any unhealthy patterns you notice and change them; spend more time with people you like while remaining open-minded to meeting new ones!

Research indicates that social connections are integral to happiness, helping us manage life's ups and downs better. A strong sense of belonging helps us be resilient against challenges while social ties increase positive emotions while decreasing depression - both benefits that are commonly associated with loneliness.

One way to strengthen relationships is by being truly curious about one another. Happy couples pay attention to one another's hopes, dreams and frustrations while also taking time to communicate openly and be vulnerable with each other.

Relationships can be hard to maintain during busy times, but prioritizing them can make life much happier and healthier. Expressing gratitude can strengthen any relationship and research has demonstrated its positive effects both for those feeling the gratitude as well as those receiving it - one study at University of Pennsylvania had participants write letters of thanks weekly to someone who had done something kind for them; the result? An increase in both participants' happiness levels!

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