What is Happiness: An Internal Game that Only You Can Decide to Play

What does it mean to be happy?  Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, defines happiness as life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions.

Since we know that the more fully one lives into his or her values, the more deeply satisfied they will be, Diener’s definition supports the absolute importance of values clarification and alignment work.  He also makes a strong case for practicing and appreciating what we have, rather than dwelling on what we don’t.  If you find that you aren’t as happy as you would like to be, one option is to explore your values and another is to practice the art of gratitude

Being happy is largely an internal game that only you can decide to play.

Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.  Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Seligman says that all three are important, but that of the three, engagement and meaning make the most difference to living a happy life.

Again, Seligman reinforces that deciding to do our own internal work (self-awareness, knowing our values and talents, and exploring how we use ourselves to make a difference) can lead to happiness.

I’ve also seen the research that shows we each come into the world with a set-point, or our natural genetic tendency to be happy.  And, I am no Pollyanna; I understand that we can only work with what we have been given.  But if you could be as happy as it is humanly possible for you to be, wouldn’t you choose that over the alternative?

Clearly it is easier to be happy when life is treating you kindly, and based on the research, it also helps if you are more aware of who you are and what you have to offer so that the external world can invite you to the party.  I will also agree that it is hard to be happy when shame and doubt get between you and your full potential.

“Feeling good” and living the “good life” requires our full attention as we spin around the dance floor to the music of life; easy listening, then an up-tempo celebration, and next a tragic opera.

There is a natural cycle to all things.  I recall that what goes up, must come down, and vice-versa. This too shall pass, becomes my mantra, and it helps me remember that all things must come to an end; both what I perceive as good and bad.  If I let my happiness become dependent on that which I don’t control, I may grow weary of the dance.

I interpret both Diener and Seligman’s definition of happiness as more a function of what happens on the inside, than some external circumstance that brings me fleeting moments of pleasure. I have to do my internal work as the price for maximizing what happiness is possible for me.  But what does that mean in terms of society’s responsibility for the happiness of others?  Why is this topic relevant to where we work?

When we cultivate happiness in the workplace the value to the organization is: higher quality of work, greater creativity, increased productivity, and an increased likelihood to be more cooperative.  It’s true that each individual is accountable for his or her own happiness.  But here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can support others to be happier at work. We can teach Managers:

  • how to lead and inspire team members to be the best version of themselves.
  • that the role of Leader is to unleash personal values, talent, vision, and purpose and that this type of coaching inspires, aligns, and engages teams.
  • to listen as much as they talk.
  • to balance feeling with thinking. 
  • that people contribute more when they feel empowered.
  • to remember what drives each of us is our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I would love to hear from you. Let me know what you would add to the list of how we can increase happiness at work

Deb’s Keys to Happiness (you gotta find your own!)

While we each may vary (to some degree) on the specific things that make us happy, we mostly agree that happiness is what we want most out of life.  Happiness can be characterized as positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.  

When I asked my friends what made them happy, they responded overwhelmingly with “time spent with love ones,” as well as achievements, and moments of pure pleasure.   Their comments were in line with the findings of psychologist Martin Seligman, who is one of those credited with the Positive Psychology movement.

Seligman uses the acronym PERMA to summarize the elements that seem to create happiness in humans:

  • Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths, sun on your shoulders, etc.)
  • Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity, using talent strengths)
  • Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable indicator of happiness),
  • Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and
  • Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).

Research also indicates that 40% of my happiness is within my own control.  So I got to thinking…what if I made a list of those things that make me happiest.  Here is what I came up with:

  • Morning Practice- time spent grounding and centering before I start the day.  For me this might include reading something inspirational, looking at my goals and intentions, listening to music, prayer and/or meditation.
  • Hanging out with family and friends.
  • Feeling connected through shared experiences.
  • Cooking healthy foods that taste great.
  • The feeling I have right after I exercise.
  • Being in service or making a difference for someone else.
  • Crawling into my very own bed…early!
  • Reading.
  • The warmth and glow of fire:  Camp fire, fireplace, lighting candles.
  • A clean and organized home or work area.
  • Cuddling with my dog.
  • Experiencing something new.  
  • Being in nature: watching snow fall, listening to the birds, appreciating the deep blue Colorado sky.

Try writing down an initial list…I feel happier just thinking about it.  


I was just thinking this morning about the closing sentence of the fairy tales of my youth, “and they lived happily ever after.”

We are paying special attention this month to happiness.  Happiness is one of the 15 competencies that are measured for the Bar-On EQI (emotional intelligence assessment) that I am certified to use with my clients.   What I have learned as part of that work is that when happiness scores are low, there are two competencies I look to first; self-regard and self-actualization.  When one feels unhappy with who they are or what they do it affects how they view the world.  

Some of my friends on Facebook know that I’m traveling this week on business.   Across from the hotel is a 24 Hour Fitness and my room key gives me access to the gym and I can participate in classes at no extra charge.  This is a real benefit to me because when I travel, I sometimes struggle to eat healthy and get enough exercise.  This translates as, “I’m tired at the end of the day and just want to go back to the room and lay on the bed watching TV.”  And even worse, I talk myself into having a “special meal” as a treat, almost as if the meal becomes some form of companionship…a way to avoid another night alone.  

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, and especially to acknowledge that this behavior has a negative impact on my self-regard.   My body loses its tone and I put on extra pounds.  I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, start to view myself as weak, and know I am not living my value of health and wellness.  This has a noticeable impact on how I interact with the world.  

This week I made a sacred promise to break through this pattern.   Monday, I got up early and exercised 30 minutes on the cross-trainer.   I paid attention to how I ate through the day and had dinner with a friend (I could have avoided the wine or the dressing on the salad, but overall it was a good day!).  Tuesday it was a 60-minute Zumba class after work and a light dinner.  This morning I am feeling proud of myself (and a bit sore)!  

To raise self -regard we have to create moments of pride.  We can do that for ourselves and we can participate in it for others.   Take a moment right now and identify how you will make happiness happen.  It’s easier than you think!

The Road to Happiness

I have to be honest.  I want to find my own little slice of heaven right here on earth where I can enjoy my existence and feel happy more often than not.  I realize there will be situations that occur that will make me sad; I know about deep personal loss, and I suspect that I will encounter more of those difficult days…as this is the price we pay for our humanity.

Where I’m pointing this conversation though is toward a simple truth: if unhappiness is a feeling born of circumstances then so too is happiness.   This leads me to the conclusion that given extenuating circumstances, I can put myself in situations that I enjoy more often than those that I don’t and this implies I will be happy more often than not.

I have a measure of control over my own state of happiness!  Woo Hoo!  Isn’t this great news?  Let the merry making begin!  But hold your horses…wait just a minute…now what? How does one go about finding all those shiny, sparkly moments of deep (and dare I say lasting) satisfaction? Because what I notice is that sometimes what makes me happy is a good book and another time it is hanging out with a rowdy group of friends.  I like what Robert Louise Stevenson says, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”

Of course if it involves duty…I mean really taking responsibility and being mired in the struggle, count me in!  What am I remembering from that poem, Bluebird of Happiness, “it lies beyond the river of my tears.  I enjoy nothing more than hard work and the journey of self-discovery. The harder and more complex it is, the better I like it.  But does the pursuit of happiness have to be so hard?

I am not attempting to poke fun at Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, I quite agree with his quote.  I am poking fun at myself, because I do have a tendency to make things harder than they need to be.  And my search for happiness is no exception to the rule.  In the past I spent too much time trying to figure out what makes me happy, and what I am noticing is that I simply have to decide to be happy.  It isn’t a puzzle to be solved, but rather a decision to be made about the way I want to live life.
This is such an appropriate conversation to be having now, as we work on resolutions, goals, and objectives for 2012.  Surely the things I am preparing to focus on with all my might are what I desire most…the things that will make me happy.  Beyond the mountains of my youth, in the ocean of my dreams…where bluebirds fly.   

Bluebird of Happiness by George Carroll
And in the valley beneath the mountains of my youth, lies the river of my tears. As it wends its way to the ocean of my dreams, so long ago they have gone.  And yet, if I were but to think anew, would these dreams evaporate in my mind and become the morning dew upon a supple rose whose beauty is enhanced with these glistening drops, as the sun of life peeks o’er the mountains when youth was full. Then I must not supply this endless fountain that creates the river of my tears but look beyond those mountains where the bluebird of happiness flies.”