By Jo Strausz Rosen
Dr. Betsy Stone, PhD, felt waves of joy and pleasure being with people in a recent visit to Chicago to teach a class. “Post pandemic, I find learning together is so satisfying. These moments of joy and happiness are fleeting. They are not pure. Even when we are most filled with joy, a piece of us is observing, perhaps thinking of other things, taking us away from the pure state of joy we most appreciate. We envision happiness as a kind of pure, steady state that we can achieve and remain in… but happiness is a passageway in time. The moments of extraordinary joy also contains elements of doubt, fear, and loss.”
Rather than aspire to happiness, Martin Seligman, “The Happiness Guru,” suggests that our goal should be WELLBEING. Faith, nature, spirituality, family, and friendships are the kinds of things that bring wellbeing. And if we are fortunate enough to have meaningful jobs, we can feel a sense of wellbeing while working. Dr. Stone says to observe our self-satisfaction – the relationship between what we want and want we have. For most of us, when the goal is achievable and within reaching distance, we feel the highest moments of satisfaction.
Seligman says we should aspire to flourish. We can flourish even when we struggle. We are all struggling about the current state of the world. We live with frustrations and angst. Flourishing happens when life is authentic, we are meeting goals and making connections, and relishing our accomplishments. Happiness is not a lasting state. We can let happiness go and seek Seligman’s PERMA model to help us flourish. PERMA stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.
Positive emotions are a place to linger in the moments when we feel pleasure and joy. Build these moments by spending time with friends and people we care about, doing things we enjoy, like listening to music, walking in nature, praying, knitting, cooking, writing…. When we do pleasurable things, we can pay attention to get more out of these. We can say aloud, “I love to do _____” Dr. Stone suggests that we stay present when we are in these moments and name the positive emotions we feel. Even be present during chores and feel the water wash over our hands in the sink as we complete the task of cleaning dishes. These moments of perceiving wellbeing elevate us from feeling negative.
Engagement – Be present. Go with the flow. Think of the jazz musician who riffs during a performance, totally present, flowing from the inside out… We are more likely to experience flow while we use our innate character strengths – helping us to experience more joy over time. The attention to our strengths increases our sense of flow. Living in the moment is engagement. A creative or meditative process in which our conscious mind isn’t directing our thoughts but is spontaneous in the here and now. Be present. This moment is all there is.
Relationships are a strong way to feel a sense of community. Friends, family, work associates… from intimate relationships to less important interactions with strangers, we are innately social creatures. We can use these relationships to make a difference in our world. Our social connections become more important as we age. Perhaps for some, these are less easy to build, but more important to have. Take some risks, invest in making friends. Enroll in a class, volunteer, get involved in something you care about. Shared interests with people build deeper connections.
Meaning is one of the most grounding aspects of our sense of self. Having a purpose is a grounding experience. Dr. Stone says, “As we consider the new life stage, Encore Adulthood, we find ourselves retired, and very much alive. We may be looking at the possibility of a 30-year expanse of time. Who and how are people successful in retirement? We can reincarnate our old selves into someone new. And if we concentrate on ‘meaning making’ this is what fills our days and bring us pleasure.” Elevate what matters most. New and old relationships with a variety of purposeful activities provide meaning. These don’t necessarily have to be shared with others. Find meaning in writing poetry, reading, making art, creating a garden, and tinkering in it., taking a walk, planning a trip. Seek activities that can bring about change, that can bring personal joy and pleasure. As we absorb and integrate our post pandemic lives, take this time to search and find meaning every day.
Accomplishment/Achievement – Dr. Stone shares “We can become clearer after retirement. Time becomes currency. Gratification becomes currency. Meaning becomes currency. Set some new goals for learning and working toward achieving these with mastery to bring joy. These should be intrinsic goals that lead us to growth and connection, valued more at this time than extrinsic goals like money or fame that is measured by the outside world. Celebrate our achievements, mark the moments. Spend time focusing on what we have accomplished and are most proud of, and not, what we haven’t done. Shut those critical voices down, especially our own.”
Throughout our lifetime, we go through trauma and joy and can feel both simultaneously. We can make a joke and momentarily bring joy and laughter to our hearts while attending a Shiva and still grieve for a loved one. We can put away our sadness to be with our community and choose joy and pleasure to find the best of ourselves and each other.
THE THING IS, by Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
Thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs:
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.