How to Map Your Happiness

Heart into labyrinth“Happiness is sort of a slippery goal,” I told Ellen when she said that she wanted to be happier.  “Let’s see if we can pin it down.”

One of the first things you need to know about any goal you set is how you’ll know when you reach it.  If you took me up on my offer to begin the grand adventure of adding more happiness to your life, you need a way to define it too.

So let’s look at some ways that you can measure how happy you are now.

Happiness is Satisfaction with Your Life

One measure that positive psychologists use to take your happiness temperature is the Satisfaction With Life Scale1.  All you have to do is decide, on a scale of 1-7, how strongly you agree with the five questions below.

Here’s how to pick a number;

7 – Strongly Agree
6 – Agree
5 – Slightly Agree
4 – Neither Agree nor Disagree
3 – Slightly Disagree
2 – Disagree
1 – Strongly Disagree

And here are the questions:

1.    _____  In most ways my life is close to the ideal.

2.    _____ The conditions of my life are excellent.

3.    _____ I am satisfied with my life.

4.    _____ So far, I have gotten the things I want in life.

5.    _____ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

Choose a number between 1-7 to indicate your agreement with each statement.  Now add up the numbers you assigned to each statement.

How did you do?

Most people score between 21 and 25, indicating that most of us are mildly satisfied with our lives.  The higher your score, the more satisfied you are.

A Closer Look at Happiness

As I mentioned in last week’s article, positive psychology has moved away from simple happiness as a measure of well-being.  The word “happiness” can sound a little frivolous.  And as the new science gathered more data, it recognized  that the positive emotions we experience include a richer range of feelings than the pleasure and joy that the word “happiness” implies.

Now the focus is on broader, deeper levels of well-being.  The word that positive psychologists are using now to describe a rich, healthy, wholly satisfying life is “flourishing.”  Flourishing includes a wide range of positive emotions.  But it includes other kinds of experiences, too.   We’ll consider those in future articles.

But let’s start with measuring how happy you are now. And let’s say that “happiness” is a kind of umbrella word that we use to hold all the positive emotions.

According to happiness researcher Barbara Fredrickson, our positive emotions can be boiled down to ten:

•    Joy
•    Gratitude
•    Serenity
•    Interest
•    Hope
•    Pride
•    Amusement
•    Inspiration
•    Awe
•    Love

Read through the list slowly and as you name each emotion, get in touch with the feeling of it.  If you get stuck on any of them, try remembering a time in the past when you felt it.  Or think of a movie or story that created the feeling for you.

Mapping Your Happiness Details

While the Satisfaction With Life Scale gives you a sense of your overall happiness, the fact is that, in real life, some parts of our lives are happier than others.   We may adore spending time with our families, for example, and hate going to work.  Or vice versa!  We might have a rich, fulfilling spiritual life but finances that drive us nuts.

So to get a more detailed picture of the parts of our lives that are working well and the parts that need some tweaking, let’s plug some numbers into each of the main segments of our lives.

Wheel of Life

Below is a “Wheel of Life” with concentric circles numbered 1-10.   For each section of the wheel, think about how many of the positive emotions you generally feel in that life-area compared to the number of negative emotions that you feel (anger, annoyance, worry, confusion, discouragement, helplessness, loneliness, irritation, sadness, discomfort and so on).

Then decide on a scale of 1-10 – where 1 represents a total absence of positive feelings and 10 represents completely positive – pick the number that applies for each area in your life.   You can either print this article or just make a list of the life areas and write your numbers next to each one.

Here’s what a completed Wheel of Life looks like for Ellen.

And here are her scores:

Health  8
Career 5
Finances 4
Spouse    8
Family 6
Friends 4
Fun    2
Physical Environment 7
Community 7
Spirituality 8

Happiness at a Glance

You can see at a glance that Ellen is fairly happy with her health, her marriage, her home (physical environment), her community involvement and her spirituality.   But she’s certainly not having much fun, and she doesn’t spend nearly as much time with her friends as she would like.  Her job doesn’t give her a lot of satisfaction and her finances are a bit of a problem for her, too.  She’s moderately happy with her family life, but when you ask her, she’ll tell you that she wishes they had more time to do fun things together.

Now Ellen has a some starting places.  She can see at a glance what parts of her life need an infusion of some positive emotions.

After we have had time to explore some steps she can take to bring more good feelings into her life, Ellen can do the wheel again.  Then we’ll have a concrete way to see how well she’s doing with her goal “to be happier.”

Next week, we’ll look at the ways that we can bring more positivity into our lives is by becoming more engaged in the areas that need a boost.

Meanwhile, map your own happiness.  Make some post-it notes with the ten positive emotions on them and scatter them around to keep you on the look-out for them in your life.  Give them a nod of recognition when they show up; make them feel welcome.

Then follow along and see where this grand adventure will lead you.

1  Biswas-Deiner, R. (2010) Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching: Assessment, Activities and Strategies for Success Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

PS To begin adding more positivity to your life right away, grab a copy of my free ebook, The Positive-Living-Now Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well-Being  from the top right corner of this page.


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This is the 1st article of five in a series about Martin Seligman’s five pillars of well-being.  In addition to Positive Emotions, the other four pillars are: Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.

Heart Graphic: stock.xchng


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