Meaningful and happy life from perspective of positive psychology
This essay is based on Positive psychology -training session, which was kept on 12.10.2021 during the alumni week at Proakatemia. The essay handles different theoretical points of view and ponders happiness and the meaning of life, based on the training session and theoretical background. The facilitator of the training session was Toni Lehtimäki, master of psychology, whose specialization is theoretical models of positive psychology. Lehtimäki is also one of the coaches at Proakatemia. Theoretical points and references are based on this training session kept on the 12th of October 2021 together with other references.
Overview of positive psychology
Positive psychology is one of the orientations of psychology. It focuses strength and behaviour of human beings and on the angle of happiness, satisfaction and flourishing life. This angle of psychology highlights the meaning of life and comprehensive, satisfying life, not only the experience of happiness. (Psychology Today, 2021.) Positive psychology is based on the subjective experience of human beings.
Martin Seligman is nominated as the master and mentor of positive psychology. He has described multiple points of view of a happy life. Based on Seligman’s theories, psychologies have expanded these theories further and researched more human beings’ behaviour and experiences which affects the experience of positive life. (Psychology Today, 2021.) In next paragraph presents three theoretical backgrounds of a happy life: Hedonism, flow theory and the hamburger model.
According to the theory of hedonism, the behaviour of human beings is led by seeking satisfaction and avoiding resentment. This empirical theory is called psychological hedonism. (Airaksinen, 2017.) The theory considers subjective well-being, which is divided into an emotional and cognitive parts. The emotional part includes the feeling of positive and negative emotions and the cognitive part includes the experience of satisfaction in one overall and also in a specific field of life. These two components create a definition of hedonism and its continued positive experiences and feeling of a good life. (Lehtimäki, 2021.)
According to an ethical, normative, hedonism, it is natural and acceptable for human beings to seek satisfaction and avoiding to miserableness in everything they do. According to hedonism, seeking satisfaction is the only purpose in life. (Airaksinen, 2017.) Essentially, this point of view of psychology sounds lovely, friendly and approachable, because what wrong and bad there can be to seeking a happy and wonderful life? Lehtimäki (2021) says that the problem with this kind of way of thinking is, that the mind gets used to satisfaction and positive emotions very easily. To feel those emotions get more and more difficult if there is not a mix of different feelings. Airaksinen (2017) supports the point of view of Lehtimäki: People are seeking satisfaction for the wrong reasons, which might drive a human being in the direction and end up making damage to their person. (Airaksinen, 2017.)
Seeking satisfaction can lead to miserableness in the end and that’s why Lehtimäki highlights that gracefulness of new things, learning new skills, meeting new people and challenging oneself are keys to variableness and surprises in life. Variableness and unexcepted things make those positive emotions stronger and highlight them in life. (Lehtimäki, 2021.) In this point of view, seeking just satisfaction does not support the development and growth of human beings.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályin uses the term flow-state to represent the phenomenon in which a person has strongly focused on just the thing they are going in that particular moment. In a flow-state, the person is fully conscious of their actions and does not feel disturbed by any internal or external matters. Even though, in flow-state means a strong focus on action, it does mean that the focus is on the action itself. It is a kind of breakless focus. (Sinisalo, 2020.) According to Csíkszentmihályin the secret of happiness is to find own way to get the flow state in every field of life including work, free time and family. If everything in life is important itself and that’s why so affordable, life does not have things which feel pointless. (Lehtimäki, 2021.) Flow is usually the mood, in which a person does not observe the time and it feels easy to end the task. Focusing on the task is easy because it is interesting, and offers a suitable level of challenge.
To reach the flow-state, a person’s skills and the challenge level of the task need to be matched. Too challenging a task leads to anxiety and too easy a task leads to bored. (Sinisalo, 2020.) Sinisalo (2020) says, that the flow-state is not easy to be reached and it is important to understand, how the flow-state works. The flow state needs the task with a suitable challenge because a too easy task can not lead to the flow state. In turn, too challenging a task can lead to frustration. Therefore, it is easy to understand how important it is to have challenges but if the challenge causes struggling and striving too hard all the time, the possibilities to reach the flow state are low.
The hamburger model of Tal Ben-Shahar
One model of positive psychology is The hamburger model by Tal Ben-Shahar. The model represents the trade cycle of benefits and hindrances of matters and choices in the present and the future. Also, it represents the idea of valuing things in the short- or long-term time frame. (Lehtimäki, 2021.) The bottom of the model represents nihilism and hedonism, which are not causing happiness in the future because hedonism is focusing on pleasure in the present, not in the future. Nihilism itself represents the idealogy where there are no values which are not lead to pleasure or satisfaction in the present or the future. For example, a hedonist wants to feel pleasure right away and strongly avoid resentment. Eating junk food hamburgers can cause satisfaction and value right now, but it is not good for well-being and health in the future. A nihilist eats a bad hamburger, which is junk food also but does not even taste good, so it is bad in the perspective of the present and the future.
At the top of the picture, there are choices which cause a positive effect on the future. If the value is only future and the way to value it is to lose the meaning of pleasure in the present, they end up in the rat race, where choosing the burger which looks better on paper. Tal Ben-Shahar represents it as a vegetarian burger, so kind of a compromised solution to eating a hamburger. A vegetarian burger represents the idea of choosing a solution, which leads to better results but causes also suffering at that moment and in the present. The ideal solution and choice is the ideal hamburger, which tastes good and supports goal achievement in the future. In the ideal situation, a person feels that choices are in the same line with values and goals and that those choices do not feel sacrifices or misery.
Lehtimäki (2021) describes the model from the point of view of sports: When the goal of the athlete is right and motivating, none of the choices in life feels like a sacrifice or that person needs to miss something because of the goal (Lehtimäki, 2021). For example, in the life of an athlete, there can be early hard workouts many times a week, healthy food or using time just for one competition. Lehtimäki (2021) gives one highlighted example of this: If you would know about the future, that you are going to fail in some of your goals just right at the end, would you still be ready to set that goal and strive for it? (Lehtimäki, 2021.) This is an interesting point of view and the idea leads to deeper into the values and the meaning of the goal. When the goal is right and fits values, striving gives pleasure even though it would seem to sacrifice for other people. In the end, the core of the person decides does actions give satisfaction and happiness.
Picture 2. The hamburger model by Tal Ben-Shahar
The meaning of happiness. Why is happiness important in life?
According to Lehtimäki (2021), happy people are more productive and innovative in work life, earn better and succeed to proceed in their careers. They are better leaders and negotiators and also succeeds better in their personal and social life. Happy people can also handle changes and stress better and also have a better immune system together with a better physical condition which leads to living longer. (Lentimäki, 2021.)
In this perspective, happiness can not be too highlighted in life, because it affects every field of life. Every person, employee, leader, parent, partner or athlete wants to succeed better in their life and be a better person to their relatives. However, Lehtimäki (2021) reminds us that the base of a happy life can not be the will of a happy life. He highlights that according to Viktor Franklin, happiness is not something that can be just waiting to happen but appears unexpectedly when a person is striving towards their goal. According to Franklin, the meaning of life comes from striving toward the goal and with the right goal, it does not feel even sacrificing but causes meaning and joy. (Lehtimäki, 2021.) That means, that happiness can not appear just from the decision to be happy but to do work for that.
Meaning of values and goals from the perspective of happiness
When talking about happiness and good life, the values of human beings stand out strongly. Values mean things and matter in life which are important or meaningful (Lehtimäki, 2021). According to Lehtimäki (2021), values are like bus drivers of life: They lead and take towards the destination. Therefore, values must match goals and they are in the same line. Wrongly matched goals can lead in the wrong direction and the outcome can be miserableness and insignificance. (Lehtimäki, 2021.) Earlier presented The hamburger model from Tal Ben-Shahar supported this idea. For that reason, it is important to think and ponder own values and deeper reasons for them. From that, it is easier to find the right goals and, the most important thing, striving towards them does not feel like a sacrifice. Like Lehtimäki (2021) emphasizes, when goal and value match, the used time for the goal leads to meaningful things in life. It is the key to a happy and meaningful life.
The theories presented above show that the most crucial parts of a happy life are the importance of goals and values, feeling pleasure and challenges at a suitable level. Thinking from just one perspective and theory, the point of view can stay too narrow and lead to black-and-white -thinking. In hedonism, goals are not important in happiness because pleasure right away is the most important thing. Flow theory emphasizes challenges and continuesly development. The hamburger model highlights the match of goals and values.
Hedonists can think that happiness can be too hard from the perspective of development and challenging oneself by wondering, why not just enjoy life? If there are no goals can end up in a situation where life has just happened without direction or purpose. That can cause feelings of insignificance. However, someone can enjoy the hedonistic way of living life, even though not that literally. Goals can be also human and social-focused and not work-oriented, for example. Being a better friend, spending more time with family or developing listening skills can be also goals. These types of goals can be more suitable for the hedonistic thinker.
When understanding the term of value and goals which are matched to them, it is easier to understand The hamburger model, flow theory and self-development in a more humanity-focused way than a goal-oriented way. When taking deep dive for own values, accepting ownself with misfortunes and achievements and also giving time for meaningful things, one can see that there are deeper, softer levels in those theories. In the end, the most important thing is own experience of what brings meaningfulness in all achievements and failures.
Airaksinen, T. 2017. Hedonismin ilo ja kurjuus. Lääketieteellinen aikakausikirja duodemicim. Joulunumero 2017. Referred 24.10.2021.
Lehtimäki, T. 2021. Training session of Proakatemia 12.10.2021 and PowerPoint show
Psychology Today. Positive Psychology. Referred 24.10.2021.
Sinisalo, K. 2020. Flow-teoria: Kohti rikkoutumatonta fokusta. Nordicedu. Kirjoitettu 20.2.2020. Referred 24.10.2021.
Picture 2: Laitinen, J. 2021. Picture created 12.10.2021 based on PowerPoint show of Toni Lehtimäki.