Authentic Happiness

Wild West Yorkshire, Saturday 11 December 2010

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I found this darter dragonfly in the summer and took it to draw during visiting time.

tree topsWHAT MAKES you happy? Can you measure something as subjective as your own happiness? If you knew the answers to those questions, would you change your plans for the future?

Dr Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsyslvania makes a convincing case for using Positive Psychology to make world a happier place, an aim that runs parallel to the traditional role of the clinical psychologist, which is to try and make it a less unhappy place.

At the Positive Psychology Center's Authentic Happiness website, you can register and use all the resources for free, including the VIA Survey of Character Strengths which, in 240 questions, aims to rate 24 'strengths'. It's intended to give you some insight and inspiration into what makes you happy and it certainly worked for me; they got it exactly right in identifying my 'Top Strength' as a 'Curiosity and interest in the world'. That is what makes me happy and, conversely, I feel frustrated when I can't get out and see the world for myself.

“You are curious about everything.” the results tell me, “You like exploration and discovery.”

They suggest that I should pay attention to my 'signature strengths' and find ways to use them more often. They rate a 'Love of Learning' and an 'Appreciation of beauty and excellence' as my second and third strengths with 'Fairness, equity, and justice' and 'Zest, enthusiasm, and energy' trailing a little behind. That's fair enough; my zest and energy have been known to tail off at times.

Mantaray bagJoking apart, for me the results are surprisingly accurate. Without asking any specific questions about what I do for a livng, they've summed up the sketchbook habit with uncanny precision;

“You love learning new things . . . anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn. You notice and appreciate beauty . . . in all domains of life from nature to art . . . to science to everyday experience.”

“Regardless of what you do, . . . approach it with excitement and energy . . . never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure ”

It reads like a mission statement and I can't wait to set off with my sketchbook, pen and watercolours.

Richard Bell, illustrator

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