When Rethink your Career was published, I did lots of publicity, radio, library talks, interviews. A number of conversations stick in my mind several ears later. One of the library talks was quite memorable for the Q&A at the end people had thoughtful questions and insights and it was fun, too. One woman asked me how you find meaning as we age. Potentially a huge topic, and a very personal one. We had a lively discussion, but it got me reflecting, too.
One way into thinking about this is to use Martin Seligman’s distinction between the Pleasant Life, the Good Life and the Meaningful Life.
The Pleasant Life
Pleasures are based in emotion and are generally momentary (so basically, they don’t last long)! It’s not all bad news though, increasing positive emotions is possible…and worthwhile.
One way to increase positive feelings is through gratitude. Even taking a moment at the end of the day to write down or share three good things that happened to you that day can measurably increase your level of overall happiness. I was initially quite sceptical about this, but now do it with my son at bedtime most nights, and it really does work – try it and see! He enjoys it so much that he often reminds me if I forget to initiate it…
Seligman’s also big on savouring each moment of a pleasure (or mouthful, in the case of ice cream…).
A great way to try this out is to set aside say an hour or two (more if you can) and really notice your surroundings – go for a walk somewhere beautiful or do an activity that gives you pleasure. Try to savour the experience as much as possible – and don’t fill your mind with thoughts of what else you should be doing, or of what you will be doing later in the day…savour the present as much as possible. Enjoy!
The Good Life
The good life is more satisfying than just the pleasant life, because it results from maximising long term gratification rather than just focusing on fleeting pleasures.
Unlike pleasure, gratifications are characterised by absorption, engagement and flow – Seligman is a great fan of the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow.
The best way to increase gratification is to use your strengths as often as possible in all areas of your life. I’ve written often on both finding your strengths and using your strengths, because it is TRUE.
You can choose to operate from strengths – and choosing to use, say,
‘curiosity’ to guide you in a particular activity or for a period of time will definitely increase your capacity in this area. So practice the ones with which you would like more facility or confidence and you’ll see results.
The Meaningful Life
The path to a meaningful life is by using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than yourself, be that your community, your planet, your loved ones or your God…
The Full Life…
….is, of course, the result of living a pleasant, good and meaningful life – at least as much as you are able, day by day.
What do you think?