At one point or another we’ve all thought to ourselves - Am I happy?
Yet this might not be the best question to ask. When we reflect on our happiness in this way, asking AM I happy, we create a false choice by presupposing only two possible answers – we are either happy (yes) or unhappy (no). Worse yet, when we search for the sources of our discontent we typically focus on situational factors outside of our control.
A more constructive question would be - How can I be happier? The reframe elevates our awareness of our having the power to make different choices and reminds us to take a long-term view. As with the stock-market, it’s more valuable to consider trends over time rather than focus on day-to-day fluctuations.
So, HOW can we be happier? As we know, it’s rather complicated. In fact, the myriad reasons that the successful pursuit of happiness can be so elusive has been the subject of many books, articles, and talks.
My most recent Aha! on this question came to me after listening to a lecture Tal Ben-Shahar gave as part of the new year-long Certification in Happiness Studies he is offering - for which I’m honored to be a teaching assistant. Here’s what he shared:
Recent research has shown that the direct pursuit of happiness leads to - unhappiness.
To work around this paradox, Tal suggests we purse an indirect path toward well-being that is both pragmatic and backed by science. He calls it the Wholebeing Approach, a mash-up of the words whole person and well-being, and it is comprised of the following five interconnected elements:
Spiritual Wellbeing: Leading a meaningful life wherein you know your purpose and have a good understanding of the values that drive your actions, and mindfully savoring the present.
Physical Wellbeing: Cultivating positive regard for your body and being aware of its ability to affect the mind - and also tapping into the idea that the mind can affect the body.
Intellectual Wellbeing: Engaging in deep learning and opening to experience that stretches the mind and cultivate creativity and love of learning.
Relational Wellbeing: Nurturing a constructive relationship with self and others, through kindness and compassion.
Emotional Wellbeing: Feeling all emotions with an emphasis on managing painful ones to build resilience and a sense of optimism.
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What I most appreciate about the SPIRE Model is that it offers multiple, clear, empirically proven, actionable pathways we can follow to indirectly pursue a more fulfilling life. It reminds us of the importance of a wholistic approach that includes engaging in work that is personally meaningful, exercising regularly and eating healthfully, learning continuously, spending time with dear friends and family members, becoming more aware of our feelings and participating in fun activities. In order to experience deep and enduring happiness and live to our fullest potential we must address all five elements. In other words, we can’t focus on only some of the dimensions and neglect others, they all interconnected.
One of Tal’s gifts is synthesizing empirically validated, theoretical constructs into practical and actionable tools. Together with his colleagues Megan McDonough and Maria Sirois of the Wholebeing Institute, Tal has created a SPIRE Check-In Exercise to help us evaluate our lives in terms of the 5 elements and, more importantly, create a specific action plan that leads to a shift in our happiness.
I invite you to download the exercise, using the link below, to create your own Aha! Moments regarding the actions you can take to Jolt your Joy and start to make progress towards that seemingly elusive question - How Can I be Happier?
To fulfill our potential for happiness, we need to pursue it indirectly.
Download the SPIRE Check-In Exercise to shine a light on what’s working well (so you can do more of it) and Identify actions you can take to improve your overall well-being.
Based on her unique life experiences, and certifications in the science of positive psychology and the art of life coaching, Alison offers practical wisdom that helps women navigate midlife transitions with clarity and confidence. www.alisondeutsch.com