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Authentic Happiness – Happiness in the Past

Fond MemoriesIn Dr. Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness, he goes into the three forms of positive emotion: happiness in the past, present happiness, and future happiness. In our pursuit of increasing “authentic happiness” in our lives there are things we can do to change how we feel about these three modes of happiness. If we can get to the point where we can view our past in a “happy sense”, view our present as being a happy time, and view our future as a time when we’ll be happy, we’ll increase our level of general happiness.  In this post I’m going to focus on the past pleasures and I’m going to discuss an activity you can take in order to change your view of your past. I’ll discuss present pleasures and future pleasures in future posts. For now it’s all about our past pleasures.

It has been shown that if we view our past in a positive light and look back on it with fondness it will affect our level of happiness in the present. Dr. Seligman discusses two activities that we can do to change our perception of the past, if it is viewed in a negative light, or to increase our perception of how good it was. One of the activities is much more intensive in that it requires you to write a letter of gratitude to a person who has been important to you in your life, and then to schedule a time to meet with that person and share your letter with him or her. If you would like more details on that I encourage you to grab a copy of his book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, and check it out. It’s in Chapter 5. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy, or maybe it’s because I want to look at what is more practical that can be done here and now, but I want to focus on the 2nd activity.

In this second activity we’re going to keep a diary for two weeks. Don’t worry; I’m not going to suggest you write a novel. All you need to do is set aside 14 single pages, and write for 5 minutes each night on one page. But first you’ll need to see for yourself if this whole exercise even works for you. You could rely on it subjectively, based on how you think you feel, or you can go and take two short online tests located on Dr. Seligman’s website www.authentichappiness.org.  There is a short registration process, but it’s well worth the time to be able to utilize all of the features and resources that the site offers. Once you’ve gone through the registration process take the six question “Gratitude Survey” and take the 5 question “Satisfaction With Life” survey. The site scores them automatically for you. It’s simple, quick, and gives you a baseline measure to compare to after you’ve gone through this 2-week journal exercise. If you’d rather not hassle with all of that, no biggie, you can just go by your subjective feelings.

Now, for the next two weeks just before going to bed sit down for five minute, think over the last 24 hours, and write down five things that you are grateful or thankful for. It could be just about anything; “a wonderful wife”, “you woke up breathing”, or “the commute into work didn’t have a lot of traffic”. Dr. Seligman doesn’t go into it, but I believe one of the reasons for this exercise is to look at your recent past and learn to appreciate all the good things. Do this each night for 14 nights, and then at the end go back and take the two surveys on www.authentichappiness.org again; the Gratitude Survey and the Satisfaction with Life Survey. If your “happiness” scores went up after the 2 weeks of doing this exercise then you might want to consider making this a habit that you continue doing every night.

Now Go Be Successful in All Areas of Your Life!!


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