What makes a good life?

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I was listening to Martin Seligman at the RSA talking about positive psychology. His discussion of the causes of suicide (a lack of meaning in daily activities) dovetailed with an earlier discussion on the Suicide Paradox from Freakonomics. Two bits that stuck with me from the Freakonomics episode was that suicide rates increase as standards of living rise and that the time from the suicidal impulse to the suicidal action is often as short as two to five minutes.

I know, this doesn’t sound very “happy” so far. The RSA lecture made me look up more of Martin Seligman’s presentations and I came across the TED.

If you can’t be bothered to watch a 15 minute TED, here is what makes for a happy life.

  • Meaning (working for a goal larger than oneself), and
  • Engagement with others.
  • Last, and to minimal extent, is having a pleasurable life.

Now, of course, it is that last item that we spend the majority of our lives chasing.

That is not meant to be glib or deprecating. Taking care of those low level Maslow needs also falls in there: paying rent, figuring out how to send the kids to school, saving enough to not be poor and without health insurance in old age, also can fit into that category. It isn’t pleasure per se however, it is the avoidance of “pain” and it is the search for safety. However, it typically does not give us engagement with others or meaning in our lives.

Creative Commons License photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt – Pink Sherbet Photography