Being happy is usually associated with smiles, laughter, and humour, but the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a state of wellbeing and contentment. In the first installment of this winter’s Friday Afternoon Seminars on Wellbeing, Darcy Santor, a full professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, breaks down the five pillars of wellbeing and five ways to maximize your happiness.
The first pillar is positive emotions; it’s all about feeling good. The goal of this pillar is to maximize the positive emotions you experience, which in turn can lead to a fulfilling life. How can you achieve this? There are a number of ways, but one of the more important methods is to decrease stress. Seems easy enough, right? Professor Santor describes two types of stress, each of which have different causes and different ways of being dealt with. These two types are stress as a load and stress as a worry. Stress as a load is the stress on the body caused by work and daily tasks, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can reduce this type of stress by, for example, managing your time better and asking for help. The other type, stress as a worry, is due to doubts, worries, and concerns. Balancing this type of stress is important, especially in our current situation: not balancing this type of stress can easily lead to feeling overwhelmed.
The second pillar is engagement; this is all about finding joy in daily activities. The goal of this pillar is to become completely absorbed in an activity. When you fully engage in an activity, you want to be completely focused on it. You should feel as if time has stopped, and that you have become unaware of your “self” and thus unaware of your doubts. Professor Santor uses athletes engaged in sport, when they say they are “in the zone”, as an example. To get “in the zone”, the task must have five components: it must be rewarding; have a clear goal; produce clear and immediate feedback; incorporate a challenge that matches your skill level and; cause you to focus intensely on the task.
The third pillar is relationship based. One of the most basic needs described by this pillar of wellbeing is having strong connections with friends and family, as well as a romantic partner. Professor Santor refers to studies that show that having deep connections with others leads to a longer life.
The fourth pillar is meaning, namely about finding a sense of purpose. The first three pillars are meaningless if there is no meaning underlying them. To maximize meaningfulness, choose activities that align with your core values and strengths. These activities may not always be fun and pleasurable, but they are important to improve your wellbeing.
The final pillar is achievement, namely drawing strength from your successes and accomplishments. Take a moment every day to reflect on these and to celebrate your wins. To improve this aspect of wellbeing, focus on your efforts rather than the results; even small successes count.
Friday Afternoon Seminars on Wellbeing is hosted by Darcy Santor from 1 p.m. to 2:20 p.m. every Friday until April 4. You can register online for these webinars to participate and complete ultra-brief exercises for each of the seven topics covered. I found this seminar very interesting and useful, so I will be signing up for the upcoming seminars as well.