In mental health we often focus on reducing distress and negative emotions, with the ultimate aim of restoring positive emotions and wellbeing. There is, however, another possible direction (which is not incompatible with the previous) in which we can intentionally promote our positive emotions and happiness directly. In this entry I will explain one path to go about it.
There are two types of positive emotions that bring us happiness:
- Contentment: Is the appreciation of what we experience in the moment through our senses.
- Achievement: The accomplishment or progress towards something we value.
In other words we find happiness when we spend our time and energy meaningfully.
When there is a lack or loss of meaning in our lives depression can occur. A very good way to bring back or increase the meaning in our lives is to develop a life plan based around our vision, purpose and mission.
Vision is the degree of clarity we have about the life we want to live. Orienting our focus towards what compels us.
When we lack vision we will also lack genuine motivation in our day to day living which will reflect that back to us: insecurity, confusion, low mood and self-esteem issues normally follow. This then has a negative impact in our relationships and the work we do. Therefore establishing our vision is not just a long-tern aim but rather something with clear consequences in our present lives. Connecting with our vision is the closest to a path or gateway into genuine happiness.
Sustainable happiness has much more to do with awareness of progress towards valued outcomes than it has to do with form of temporary pleasure. Vision sets our destination and life direction as a northern star guide. Vision alone is not enough for sustainable happiness, however it is often the best place to start. When we get the big picture right, then the small parts follow into place.
If vision is WHAT we want, purpose is WHY we want it. Without a clear purpose we won't endure the hardships/setbacks that inevitably occur in any journey. If our why is not important/strong enough then any significant setback will make us discard our motivation. But when the purpose is important/clear enough then setbacks will be secondary/transitory and won't derail us for long.
Purpose has to do with our values, why do we value something as essential. Purpose is related to what principles truly motivates us in life and it is also related to whatever has caused us more suffering in the past. The opposite of what caused us suffering is what we can identify as our life purpose. Our purpose are the columns that sustain the ceiling of our vision, what vertebrates it.
Mission is HOW we can move towards our vision.The ground foundations where the columns are rooted. This demands radical honesty in assessing what does our vision require from us to do (realistically). It requires humbleness to assess our current capacities/resources and wisdom to establish long, mid and short-tern goals we can work towards ( 1 year goals, 6 month goals, monthly goals, weekly goals...).
Establishing goals is simple but not easy. We can easily come up with goals that are too difficult (procrastination. giving up) or too easy ( no progress, boredom).
Engaging with our mission promotes happiness and self-esteem. This pursuit needs to be reviewed periodically as at times we will encounter challenges we had not anticipated before, we will be required to adjust our mission plan, although not necessarily our purpose and vision if they have been properly identified.
We can clarify our vision, purpose and mission through developing a life plan.
We can set 12 main life categories, for each of one we can spend time reflecting upon what we want (Vision), why we want it (Purpose) and how we will move towards it (Mission):
1/ Health and Fitness 2/ Intellectual (input and output)
3/ Emotional 4/ Character traits
5/ Spiritual life 6/ Romantic Life
7/ Parenting 8/ Social life
9/ Career 10/ Finances
11/ Surroundings 12/ Sample of a day in your ideal life in 5 years time.
Try to create the life plan for your self. Put it in a place where you can review it often.
By focusing on pursuing our vision, we are likely to experience more moments of contentment. When we know we are on a path towards what we desire we we are more likely to appreciate everything.
We can also pursue contentment instead of achievement to enable positive emotions. Activities such as meditation and mindfulness, spending time in our hobbies and with the people we value; are some examples of tasks to access contentment. From a state of contentment we are more likely to engage in achieving our vision.
Achievement and contentment are contained in each other, thus, presenting a yin/yang dimension towards true happiness.
During our current times of pandemic and lockdown we are forced to reflect upon our lives and goals. We might feel like we have no choice but to focus on our immediate needs and to aim for contentment due to the restrictions and uncertainty. This is realistic and healthy however, there is no reason why we can't start painting the picture of our long term goals, presicesly due to current limitations, in times of crisis survival is not enough if we want good mental health, we need renewed and realistic hope, this blog aimed at being one tool to accomplish that.