Happiness is a byproduct. It is not something we can seek out. It is not something we can predict. The more we force it, the more elusive it becomes. The best we can do is seek a good and fulfilling life. According to William S. Burroughs, “Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict.”
So, how do you live a good life? Jonathan Fields suggests in his book How to Live a Good Life that it is by maintaining three life buckets: vitality, connection, and contribution. Along with my focus on ‘productivity’ this year, I have been experimenting with Jonathan’s prescription for living a good life. I am constantly checking in with myself making sure I am maintaining vitality through self-awareness, better eating habits, moving regularly, and connecting with friends and family through visits and regular, intentional contact. I have especially been focusing on strengthening and deepening my relationships.
Then there is contribution. I struggle with satisfaction with this bucket. It is more than just giving beyond yourself. It is about knowing your values and spending time on things that are meaningful. One of the daily challenges in Field's book involved taking the VIA survey of signature strengths. After taking the quiz, your results identify your character strengths in order of score. You end up with five or six top traits that you can integrate more intentionally in your life. Your character strengths help shed light on what you find meaningful and give you an idea of what traits you might wish to bolster. By shifting your focus from what is wrong to what is good, it helps take a strengths-based approach to life.
My top six traits were a love of learning, kindness, curiosity, appreciation of beauty and excellence, fairness, and humor. Not surprisingly, I already nurture these traits naturally. These top traits tend to be what engage, energize, and comfort you. Since taking the survey, I have become more aware of the ways I do and can use and express these characteristics in my life.
Love of Learning
“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood your whole life, but in a new way.” —Doris Lessing
I really do love learning. I enhance this trait by taking the time to listen to engaging podcasts, read interesting articles, and learn from the people around me.
“If there is anything I have learned about men and women, it is that there is a deeper spirit of altruism than is ever evident. Just as the rivers we see are more compared to the underground streams, so, too, the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what people carry in their hearts unreleased or scarcely released.” —Dr. Albert Schweitzer
While I try to be aware of the kindness I show to others, I also try to offer up the same to myself.
“Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of that question.” —Tennessee Williams
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but think of all that she saw before her death. I am taking more time to actively engage with my environment. Asking questions, not for the answers, but for the conversation.
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” —John Ruskin
We do live in a beautiful world. It is easy to lose focus of that. I have been working on not just silently appreciating beauty, but also sharing it with others. I am especially interested in the beauty of individuals. We are so harsh on ourselves sometimes. We fail to see the beauty in the ordinary.
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” —Abraham Lincoln
When making decisions and judgments, I constantly strive to take into consideration the perspective of others.
“This I conceive to be the chemical function of humor: to change the character of our thought.” —Lin Yutang
“The main thing in one’s own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.” —Maya Angelou
Laughing is indeed medicine. I seek out mirth more intentionally, whether it is laughing at myself or reading a little Calvin and Hobbes. Life is too silly to be so serious.
I challenge you to take the survey. It is fun, free, and enlightening. I would love to hear about your top character strengths!
“May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.” —John O’Donahue