As you can likely tell from our review of positive psychology thus far, happiness is a much more nuanced and layered term than we generally acknowledge. Seligman differentiates between three kinds of happiness: happiness in the past, present and future:
It is crucial to understand that these three senses of emotion are different and are not necessarily tightly linked. While it is desirable to be happy in all three senses, this does not always happen. It is possible to be proud and satisfied about the past, for example, but to be sour in the present and pessimistic about the future. (62)
Here is a quick breakdown of each:
Positive emotions about the future include:
Positive emotions about the present include:
Positive emotions about the past include:
I will write a post about each of the three dimensions of happiness as there is so much interesting research and Seligman proposes numerous exercises to translate all that research into tangible impact in your life, but today I’d like to write about a fascinating intervention which I did last summer: Self-Authoring.
Self authoring which was designed by clinical and research psychologists from the University of Toronto, McGill and Erasmus University is based on research which shows that writing exercises can help people confront their past, understand and improve their personalities in the present, and increase the chances that their futures will be meaningful, productive and healthy.
The Self-Authoring Suite is a set of four online programs, designed to help you write thoughtfully about your present, future and past. Each program presents you with a series of web pages that simplify the process of writing. Step by step, you will be presented with specific, relevant questions, each addressing some key element of your life, each accompanied by the information necessary to answer such questions.
The Present Authoring program comes in two forms. The Virtues program helps you identify your strengths and to use them more effectively. The Faults program helps you identify your weaknesses, and to limit their destructive potential.
The Future Authoring program helps you formulate a comprehensive vision of the future, three to five years down the road, and to transform that vision into a detailed plan. You will be questioned about key aspects of your life (including relationships, career, health, habits, interests), and guided through the process of considering each, deeply and practically.
The Past Authoring program helps you write an autobiography, so that you can produce a complete, well-organize account of your past experiences. It asks you to divide your past into seven epochs or stages, to identify the important experiences of each, and to thoroughly consider the positive and negative effects of those experiences.
Each program requires careful thought, and takes several hours to complete. It is better to complete the writing over several days, partly so you have time to think, but also because sleep appears to aid the process.
There is solid scientific evidence that such writing will improve your mental and physical health and help ensure that your life will follow an interesting, satisfying and proper course.
The full Self-Authoring tool costs $30 and I highly recommend it. I found the experience to be healing and empowering. It was a wonderful tool for reflection and helped me reframe some of the narratives I had been carrying around with me from childhood in a much more productive and positive manner. It also provided a helpful framework through which to design my becoming–my growing into the person I strive to be.
Side Note: I’d like to make it clear that I am not affiliated with any of the authors and programs that I recommend on the blog, everything I write about are things I am interested in or have tried and found helpful.
Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.