Authenic Happiness (again)

Skip this posting if you've heard me rant about it before, but authentic happiness is so important it bears repeating. If you aren't authentically happy, you can and should do something about it. I did, and it makes me happy to share it with you.

The happiness I'm talking about is not the momentary rush of physical pleasure. Nor is it the product of drugs or sex or ecstatic religion. Rather, it's the satisfaction of doing what's right for you and for the world. That's what life's for.

Marty Seligman is a rare psychologist. He recognized that studying misfits and the mentally deranged wasn't going to explain much about staying mentally healthy. For that, you should study healthy people. From this insight, he founded the Positive Psychology movement. The story's in his book, along with the steps for achieving authentic happiness.

To be satisfied that you're doing the right thing, you have to know yourself. Most of us need some help with that. Seligman's free website offers 15 mercifully short questionnaires about your feelings and strengths. It also scores them.

For me, the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire had the most impact. This instrument confirmed things I already knew. I'm creative, original, curious about the world, and love to learn. What I didn't realize how extreme I was -- my scores on these items were among the highest ever recorded. (Remember, these are self-assessments, not objective measures.) I decided then and there that if those were so solidly my signature strengths, I had to live a life that let me express myself creatively, poke around finding things out, and feed my need to learn. No more bureaucracy for me.

Maybe you won't experience the marvellous awakening that I did, but then again, maybe you will. There's little to lose. Go to Seligman's site and click the shortcut to the Signature Strengths Questionnaire in the top left corner.

While I'm one of Marty Seligman's biggest fans, I do disagree with his prescription for clinical depression, described in a previous book, Learned Optmism. He makes a case for overcoming "learned helplessness" with logic and a bit of reprogramming.

I've been close enough to depression to know that talk and logic are not always enough. Sometimes severe depression is the result of bad chemistry in the brain. Talk alone doesn't work for people like William Styron or Mike Wallace. They take Zoloft every day to restore the serotonin balance in their brains.

It's a pity that Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, Eugene O'Neill, Cole Porter, Spencer Tracy, and Judy Garland fought the debilitation of depression before medicine had come up with a cure. Needless, awful suffering. A sure-fire marker for depression is contemplating suicide. If you've considered suicide, even just toying with the idea, get to your doctor right away.

Hey, get happy, will you? :-)

Posted by Jay Cross at August 2, 2003 12:07 AM | TrackBack

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