The three types of happiness - are you really happy? (Article)

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Exploring the three types of happiness

This free High Performance Newsletter article explores the three types of happiness identified by Dr Martin E.P. Seligman.

Derek Stockley is a training and performance consultant based in Australia.

This article is based on some key extracts from an edited transcript of the AFR BOSS Club presentation by Dr Martin Seligman in Sydney on Wednesday 15 February 2006. See full transcript at: AFR BOSS Web Article. The direct quotes are in italics.

Positive psychology and the three types of happiness

Dr Martin E.P. Seligman, a proponent of positive psychology, has identified three types of happiness.

Pleasant life

A pleasant life consists of having as much pleasure as you can, as many of the positive emotions, and learning some of the dozen or so techniques that actually work for increasing the duration and intensity of your pleasures. There are shortcuts to the pleasures. You can go shopping; you can watch television; you can take drugs. These things do not lead to true happiness.

Engaged life

An engaged life is being one with the music, being totally wrapped up in the people you love or what you're hearing. There are no shortcuts to the engaged life. The engaged life can only be had by first knowing what your highest strengths are, your signature strengths, and re-crafting your life to use them at work, in love, in leisure, in parenting and in friendship.

Meaningful life

A meaningful life consists of again knowing what your highest strengths and talents are and using them in the service of something that you believe is bigger than you are.

Hugh Heffner was wrong. The pursuit of pleasure makes almost no contribution at all to a satisfying life. It is the pursuit of meaning and the pursuit of engagement.

Life satisfaction is not a function of pleasure, it is a function of engagement and meaning. Longevity and morbidity is surprisingly a function of the positive variables as opposed to the negative variables.

Another is the effect of wealth on happiness. Most of you (referring to members of the AFR Boss audience) probably think the wealthier you are the happier you will be. Well, it turns out there is a good study of the Forbes 150, who are the 150 richest people in North America. They have the same levels of happiness and depression that you do and if you quantify once you're above the safe - below the safety net, more money makes you more happy. Where you are, however, and there are people who quantify this, just looking around - here's my guess - if you are thinking about giving up three weekends next year to earn an extra $10,000, my suggestion is don't do it. Quantitatively, it turns out that spending those three weekends with your friends and your family will bring you more life satisfaction than another $10,000.

Source: Dr Martin E.P. Seligman, the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania

Website for more information:


The differences between a pleasant life and an engaged and/or meaningful life need careful examination. It is always useful to reflect on the important things in life.

Further reading on positive psychology

The Glee Club - Positive psychology focuses on cultivating personality strengths and honing an optimistic approach to life. Exercises like writing a "gratitude letter" or making a "gratitude visit" can be a life-changing event. Psychology Today

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Derek Stockley conducts public training courses in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, including a Public Train the Trainer Program.

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