Reflection on Seligman’s Theory to Authentic Happiness

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Everyone wants to live “the good life” but in order to do so we need to learn what happiness truly means to us as humans. We desire happiness as it is human nature to do so. Happiness is deeply connected to the concept of ethics and morality. These are rules, laws and obligations we follow while searching for the good. In order to find the good in ourselves, we should focus on finding our character strengths, how we use these characteristics that uniquely define ourselves to strive in life and to reach for the ultimate goal, happiness. Unfortunately, not everyone can find happiness on their own and feel as though they do not need happiness to live a fulfilling life. But as most of us know, this is not true. According to Dr. Seligman, we can learn to become happy. In Aristotle’s teleological ethics, he teaches us the pursuit of happiness as well as human excellence. Immanuel Kant shows us what the good will means, likewise, we should use the person as an end, not a means. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us the theory for the natural desire to do good.

Dr. Martin Seligman’s authentic happiness theory consists of three different components; the Pleasant Life, the Good Life and the Meaningful life. According to Seligman, the Pleasant Life occurs when, “realized if we learn to savor and appreciate such basic pleasures as companionship, the natural environment and our bodily needs” (Seligman 2004). If one does not realize the stage of the Pleasant Life, then one cannot move onto the next stage of finding the Good Life. As I was doing my chore for my parents this past Saturday, my father saw that it was too much work for one person to do on their own. After an hour or so my brother was told to come out and help me clean up the backyard. We were both asked to clean up after my dog, rake the leftover leaves from the fall, trim the trees as well as put the patio furniture out. This is when I realized I had been in the stage of the Pleasant Life. During that time, as I continued to do my chore, I was able to truly appreciate the companionship of my brother as he not only kept me company but helped me complete the chore in a timely manner. My appreciation for one’s camaraderie has to do with my fourth top strength, capacity to love and be loved. This means that I value close relations with others, those which include sharing, and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom I feel most close are the same people who feel most close to me. I believe that since my brother and I are so close and have a very strong bond, we were able to work together well to complete the chore for the benefit of our parents. This relates to Kant’s deontological ethics in respect to the good will. This “good will” according to Kant is the will to do our duty for no other reason than to do our duty. What is central to Kant is one’s will. Although, it is not easy for a human to attain their purpose in life because of impulses and desires, but our will is finite. Therefore, “a human action is morally good when it is done for the sake of duty” (In the Search of the Good, Page 16). I felt as though it was my duty to give back to my parents considering all they sacrificed for me.

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Immediately upon the time Mrs. Burchartz introduced to the class the idea of our parents assigning us to do a chore, I was not agitated. I thoroughly enjoy helping my parents in any way I can since they do so much for my siblings and I. Even though I am extremely busy being in grade twelve; always seemingly having an assignment to do along with having a job and my daily chores to do at home. Not to mention trying to make time for fun! I do not always have the energy to do that extra bit for my parents which they probably deserve, considering all they manage to do for me. On this weekend, I had worked the night before, had two assignments to do and already had plans to go out that night. I did not wish to have more put onto my plate but since I would do anything for my parents, I was able to make time. I can relate this to my second top strength of caution, prudence and discretion. Meaning that I am a careful person and my choices are consistently prudent ones. I do not say or do things that I may regret later. If I were to not do this chore to help my parents and say no, I think later I would have regretted that decision. According to Aquinas, “when something is for is placed in the very core of what something is. At a person’s core” this “is a desire for the good”. I am one who wants to live an ethical life, by doing this I desire to do the good. Thus, is why I wanted to help my parents in any way I could.

The second part to Seligman’s theory to authentic happiness is the Good Life. One achieves the Good Life after discovering their own unique virtues and strengths and applying them creatively to strengthen their lives. “Life is only genuinely satisfying if we discover value within ourselves” (the pursuit of happiness, 2018) according to modern theories of self-esteem. In the process of doing my chore, I was able to recognize my fifth top strength, leadership. I excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. I do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen. When my brother came to help me finish the chore, I assigned us each a different task to do within the yard to get the job done quicker. As I did this, I realized that I do have leadership qualities. I feel that this is a good characteristic for me to recognize and continue practicing as I want to be a teacher when I am older. Of course, teachers are strong leaders in the classroom, practicing this leadership quality will lead me to ultimate happiness. Even though I did assign my brother a role to do and a task to complete, I did not abuse his generosity and was very grateful that he was able to help me. I can relate this to Kant’s deontological ethics, the person as an end, not a means. He intended that people are not to be treated only as a means as it would be unethical to take advantage of one. Since it was originally my chore, I felt the need to do more of the work than my brother.

Aristotle’s teleological ethics, the pursuit of happiness also helps to show me what the true meaning of happiness is. He teaches me that something that may bring momentary happiness and pleasure is not the same thing that will bring me everlasting happiness. “Aristotle does not equate happiness with pleasure”, “Pleasure is only momentary. Happiness, however, is an enduring state of someone who does well the tasks that are typical of a human being”. I believe that in doing this chore, I was able to bring happiness to my parents as I obeyed them and did as I was told. They help me so I should be there to help them. This is what I think will bring me true happiness, as I am being a good person who is succeeding in living and acting well towards others. Making others happy and seeing others being filled with joy is what I strive to continue doing. The smile I saw on my dad’s face when I had finished the chore proved that I had done well with the task at hand. This relates to my third strength of honesty, authenticity and genuineness. I am an honest person, not only by speaking the truth but by living in a genuine and authentic way. Once I have done something for someone, I am able to see the contentment I have brought to them, this is what makes me pleased. That type of happiness is not a momentary pleasure but an eternal happiness.

A Meaningful Life is the final step to Dr. Seligman’s theory of authentic happiness. This is when we find a profound sense of fulfilment by utilizing our different strengths for a greater purpose that is bigger than ourselves. Throughout the chore, I realized that I was doing this for the greater purpose of myself- that I had to do this because it was part of my assignment. I have concluded that I did this for the sake of my parents. I did this for someone else not because I needed to but because I wanted to do. Nothing will ever be enough to repay all of that in which my parents have always done and will continue to do for me throughout my life. My family is what makes me happy and that happiness is not just momentary, but it will last forever. In Aristotle’s teleological ethics, he talks about human excellence. According to the In Search of the Good, “When people seek to become who they are intended to be, they develop habits that represent the best of what it means to be human”. As I did my chore, I used my top strength of fairness, equity and justice. This is treating all people fairly. I do not let personal feelings bias my decisions about other people, I give everyone a chance. I realized it was only fair of me to contribute more of my time to help around the house so that my parents can take a break. When I finished doing my chore, I realized I had chosen that which is most appropriate of me as a human. I will continually choose to do virtuous things by allowing reason to guide my actions.

Dr. Martin Seligman’s thesis of learning to become happy is true. Once I finished my chore, I realized that it is the little things in life that contribute to greater happiness. According to Seligman’s theory, “it reconciles two conflicting views of human happiness, the individualistic approach, which emphasizes that we should take care of ourselves and nurture our own strengths, and the altruistic approach, which tends to downplay individuality and emphasizes sacrifice for the greater purpose” (Seligman, 2004). No matter which human happiness is chosen, you can always learn to use your signature strengths to become an overall happy person and live a fulfilling life.

As expressed, happiness is something that can be learned. Happiness is not materialistic objects but rather what is within you and your spirit. “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”– Helen Keller


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