When we think about our lives, we all want to make it a good one for ourselves and the people we care about. For some, they have a clear vision of what they want, while others are still exploring their options. Personally, I’m still figuring it out myself, but I do know that being happy is a big part of it.
This article is inspired by one of Ben Felix’s videos on “Investing in Happiness”. All credits go to him and the sources he cited.
An Academic View of Happiness
There are two types of happiness: Hedonia (feeling good) and Eudaimonia (feeling that we’ve lived well).
Hedonia is a more instinctive form of happiness. It describes our desire to pursue positive feelings.
Hedonic happiness usually tends to be associated with temporary and unsatisfying pleasures.
Why is this the case? It is because, often, the way our instincts seek happiness is simply to avoid pain and discomfort. Our instincts choose the simplest way toward pleasurable experiences which seldom last. Imagine listening to your favourite song when you are feeling worn out. It feels great and perks you up, but that feeling quickly fades no matter how many times you keep replaying that song.
Eudaimonia is a form of happiness that is generally described as feelings of fulfilment, or a sense of wellbeing.
Happiness derived from Eudaimonia requires us to tap into our cognitive abilities to think deeply, reflect and behave purposefully. This form of happiness is more persistent because it is not dependent on external factors, but rather on personal choices that are aligned with our value systems. Think of a professional athlete who, despite sustaining injuries, returns to the arena to compete.
As Ben Felix argues, both hedonia and eudaimonia are needed for us to feel happy. But as with all things, balance is the key to success. He refers to the PERMA model as a guide to achieving that balance. It is a model developed by Martin Seligman, a scientist in the field of positive psychology.
PERMA = A Well-Rounded Happiness
PERMA stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement/Flow, strong/healthy Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.
The idea is that by focusing on these five key elements, we can cultivate a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
As someone who loves structures and frameworks, learning about the PERMA model lit the lightbulbs in my head.
I realise that I can think of how to spend my money and time along the PERMA factors to try and improve my “happiness score”.
I can also review my goals and see how many of the PERMA factors are associated with them.
My Learning Points
Allow me to share my personal takeaways after using PERMA while thinking about my happiness.
Areas That I Have Done Well
I know what are the simple pleasures in life that get me recharged, and I have very few items on my bucket list. A few examples to share are: Watching movies (except horror types), buying the latest tech gadget and playing tennis regularly. So, in a way, I already know how to make my life enjoyable.
The idea of flow appeals to me very much. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines it as “the state in which people are so immersed in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” I first experienced flow for myself when training competitively for tennis and have been very conscious of it whenever I do something that gets me in that state. I currently have two commitments that give me flow.
The first is fatherhood. Despite the obvious challenges that come with it, I really enjoy parenthood and I find it very rewarding. And whilst I could make the choice to become a parent, it is not a guaranteed outcome. Hence, I am grateful daily that I have this opportunity.
Secondly, I am also currently working in a career that is purposeful and aligns with my interests. The work I do constantly pushes me to go beyond my comfort zone and I find myself progressing every time I reflect back.
Overall, in terms of feeling engaged, I think I have hit a pretty high score.
Areas for Improvement
I definitely need to work on strengthening my relationships with the friends that I have made over the years. Upon reflection, I had allowed work and my own family to override meet-ups with friends and I feel much regret in this regard.
I love the country that I am born in. It is an inspiring country that prospered against many odds and the leadership is always conscious about sharing that prosperity with its people. I am not yet clear on this, but I would like to find a way to contribute meaningfully back someday.
This is an area that is a constant work in progress but I know I will have a greater sense of achievement when I’ve mastered the skill of being a trusted wealth adviser. Of course, I don’t think there is a clear endpoint to mastering it, but I think a good guide will be when others start to seek me out to get advice.
Less urgent but maybe just as important, beating my fellow sparring partners in tennis someday will probably also add to my sense of achievement!
Overall, I find myself still falling into the trap of thinking that money can help me with most of it. The truth, for me, is that as I look at the areas of improvement, I realise that I am not spending my time wisely enough.
As a Conclusion
I would like to end by saying that the topic of happiness is rather complex and subjective. The PERMA model is not the only framework that tries to help us make sense of happiness.
But having an approach based on academic research has helped me connect what I know in my heart with what I know in my head a little better. And I hope it inspires you to find ways to think about your own happiness as well.
This is an original article written by Ray Zheng, Client Adviser at Providend, the first fee-only wealth advisory firm in Southeast Asia and a leading wealth advisory firm in Asia.
For more related resources, check out:
1. What Makes Us Truly Happy
2. Client Case Study: Pursuing A Work Optional Life
3. To Live the Good Life, Make Life Decision First Before Wealth Decisions
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