The link between happiness and well-being is well documented so is the ripple effect on engagement and performance.
Research into the neuroscience of happiness highlights the role played by positive emotions on people’s mental health. Neuroscientists and psychologists have been investigating the brain states associated with happiness. and their direct relationship with well-being. Studies have shown that positive emotions can improve physical health while promoting confidence, self-care, and compassion. They can help lessen negative inner chatter and saboteurs, and sustain well-being in the long term.
As human beings, we are wired for connection. We need to trust, to be seen and heard to feel happy.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory has paved the way to the flourishing of studies around the nature of positive emotions, known as positive psychology.
In recent years, studies into applied neuroscience have shown the brain’s response to certain stimuli that are said to be primary contributors towards sustainable well-being. In his theory, Maslow illustrates how self-realisation can only be obtained when all underlying needs are satisfied in turn. The level of self-actualisation or one’s sense of purpose in life or IKIGAI (our reason for being) or simply one’s happiness, is directly proportional to the satisfaction experienced in fulfilling those needs.
Positive psychology has been studying happiness since the early 90’, building on Maslow’s legacy. Its founder, Martin Seligman, defines happiness as being living a good life, a positive life, and a meaningful life. According to Seligman, happiness does not always depend on our social status, religion, or physical beauty. Happiness is a unique combination of what he called “distinctive strengths”, such as a sense of humanity, temperance, persistence, and the ability to lead a meaningful life. In his studies, he was motivated by the desire to identify the triggers of positive emotions, with a focus on the processes, dynamics, and situations that would mostly impact people’s health, performance and overall satisfaction with life, ultimately helping people to be happier and to live a happier life. Seligman’s research led him to discover that happiness can be built by working on three specific aspects as shown below:
- Cultivate compassion and forgiveness;
- Train the mind when negative emotions arise, suggesting mindfulness practice towards happiness as the expression of the present moment;
- Nourish hope and optimism;
Secondly, to live a good life is about self-realisation: Happiness is about reaching one’s potential, to feel fuller, freer, and happier.
According to Seligman, tapping into one’s strengths requires constant practice to improve that potential. This practice takes two main dimensions, that draw on human virtues & personal strengths. Some human virtues are courage, love, and humanity. Among personal strengths, we find curiosity and interest in the world; love for knowledge and learning. Courage is connected with bravery, perseverance, integrity, honesty, and authenticity.
Humanity, as personal strength, resonates with sympathy, kindness & generosity among others.
Lastly, to live a meaningful life is the highest expression of self: It echoes Maslow’s top of the pyramid of needs, where self-actualisation is about using the virtues and strengths we developed to contribute to other people’s happiness. It’s about altruism and create a better world for everyone.
Seligman defines this as the exercise of goodness, the art of knowing how to elevate ourselves beyond mere personal pleasure to put ourselves at the service of those around us.