Positive Psychology’s idea of well-being can be equated with the ultimate aim of humanity – finding personal meaning and fulfillment in our lives. In the philosophic studies of ancient Greece, academies of people asked themselves and each other, “what is the highest aim of life and how do we achieve it?” The question has been answered in different ways over the centuries. Our contemporary answer comes from a blend of science and psychology influenced by centuries of rich tradition and studies in the humanities.
Martin Seligman, author of Flourish, describes Positive Psychology’s foundation and aim. Simply put, the aim of Positive Psychology is to help people flourish in their lives, in their communities, and in the world.
Seligman’s interpretation represents an evolution from simply pursuing happiness to a more nuanced, and indeed individualized, version of well-being that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for everyone. I may be reading too much into his book – or perhaps reading what I want to be there between the lines – but I’m thrilled at the idea of a unified theory of well-being that embraces the reality of different answers for different individuals.
Here are the five core elements explored in Flourish:
1. Positive emotions. Feeling good and having a sense of happiness is key. The great part here is that positive emotion can be measured and it avoids the tautology of having happiness be defined as having a sense of happiness.
2. Engagement. Also measurable, engagement is becoming immersed or wrapped up in a task at hand. It’s a mixture between losing oneself in the action and being aware that you are letting go of self.
3. Interest. Interest plays a role. It’s natural to pursue what we like and are curious about. Curiosity met with understanding translates into interest.
4. Meaning. The best part about meaning is that it’s all made up. We as human beings have become masters at taking a situation and assigning meaning to it. In fact, this ability to create meaning is what gives us our humanity and the wonderful mixture of thought, emotion, and action make up our personalities – who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
5. Purpose. Purpose comes from a Latin word poser meaning to place. Purpose literally means what we place forward in our lives. It’s what we live for that’s larger than ourselves.
These five elements are contained only in the individual. But each of them have to be present to some degree in order for authentic happiness, or flourishing, to exist.
What I truly appreciate in this definition is the generally agreed upon aim of life to be happy and lead a meaningful existence. From this standpoint, I appreciate the framework that Seligman gives to Positive Psychology as well as humanity and that the science of psychology creates meaningful ways to measure each of these elements.