I was sleeping so soundly at 2AM, when the little dog decided she needed to go outside, I could hardly drag myself out of my slumber. Rosa Parks was fairly frantic by the time I made it to the door. I closed my eyes and leaned against the door, waiting for her to finish. Immediately, when she came back inside, I went back to bed. I wanted to go back to sleep. I wanted to be back in the center of the good dream – something about horses…and dancing…and spelling – that was still playing ’round the edges of my mind.
But, no. Though I could have slept, I’m sure, standing up, with my cheek pressed against the cold glass of the door, now I could not sleep. Always, in those times, there is plenty to think about. I run through the events of the past day, both in my life and – lately – in politics. I worry; I fret; I distract myself with my “to-do” list. That is overwhelming enough to make sleep impossible. Finally, I get out of bed.
I turn on the computer with good intentions of doing some necessary writing. I am drawn into “breaking news” and political headlines. I pull myself away from that with engagement in time-wasting word games. Soon, I am ready to try to sleep again, having foiled my good night’s rest and not accomplished one single productive thing.Then, wrapped in my fleecy robe with both dogs crowded on the couch with me, I slept late.
Immediately on waking, my mind is flooded with all the things I need to do today. And already it’s 10AM and why, why, WHY do I continue to sabotage my life like this, so that I always seem to be on the sheer face of a cliff, fighting my way upward through a blizzard…WHY is it never just easy?? I make coffee. Turn on the computer. Check my Email.
The first thing I see, right on the first line of my in-box, is “This Is How To Have A Happy Life: 4 Proven Secrets From Research.” I pour a cup of coffee. I sit down to read. It is not an invitation to a weeks-long on-line seminar to unlock the secrets of happiness. It is not an effort to sell a book. It turns out to be a not-too-long, well-researched article with good advice. And, as it happens, exactly what I needed this morning! Thank you, to whatever gods of internet content sent this to me!
The article, written by Eric Barker and published on his “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” newsletter, draws heavily from the book Authentic Happiness by University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman. He suggests that there are four choices of happy lives:
The Pleasant Life: a life that successfully pursues the positive emotions about the present, past and future. Schedule more fun.
The Good Life: actively doing stuff you’re good at and getting lost in it. Trying to improve your skills. Accomplishing goals. Go as far down that rabbit hole of “flow” as you can, Alice.
The Meaningful Life: using your signature strengths and virtues in service of something larger than you are.The Good Life + helps others.
The Full Life: experiencing positive emotions about the past and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths, and using these strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning. Enjoy the pleasures of life, leverage your skills, seek flow, and use it to help people.
The Full Life might sound like a lot. It might sound hard because of formal terms like “signature strengths” and intimidating concepts like “meaning.” Don’t let any of that stuff scare you off. Just try this:
- Every single day, do something that makes you smile.
- Every single day, do something you’re good at.
- Every single day, make sure your efforts help someone else smile.
That’s all it takes to start living the happiest life there is.
And that’s just what I plan to do!