From happy to happier

We all want to have a happy life. If we look at why we do certain things, usually the reasons finally boil down to happiness. Sometimes, we pursue certain goals believing that they will bring us happiness but when we do accomplish them, we may not feel any different, making us wonder what does make us happy.

According to Harvard professor, Tal Ben-Shahar, asking ourselves, “Am I happy?” is not a useful question because the answer to it is either a yes or a no. This is a binary approach to happiness: we are either happy or we are not. This approach comes from a belief that happiness is a specific point we will reach after achieving certain goals. However, this point does not exist and such a belief results in us feeling dissatisfied and frustrated. Since happiness is an unlimited resource and we can always be happier, a  more useful question is, “How can we become happier?”

Is it even possible? According to research, by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, we can change our personal capacity for happiness.

Our “happiness set point” which is our genetic tendency toward a certain level of happiness determines 50% of our happiness. This explains why lottery winners report returning to their baseline levels of happiness after the initial high. Our life circumstances or situations contribute to 10% of our happiness.  Thus, an encouraging 40% of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change!

Routes to happiness

Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, describes three routes to happiness.

  • The Pleasant Life
  • The Engaged Life
  • The Meaningful Life

The Pleasant Life consists in having a lot of positive emotions about the past, present and future such as satisfaction, contentment and hope. It requires learning skills to increase the intensity and duration of these emotions.

The Engaged Life is the pursuit of involvement and absorption in work, intimate relationships and leisure, referred to as ‘flow’.

The Meaningful Life involves the pursuit of meaning. This consists in using our strengths and talents to belong to and serve something that we believe is bigger than ourselves, such as our families, communities, nations, religions for example.

Which of these is most significant? Happier people tend to pursue all three routes for a happy life – pleasure, engagement and meaning – with more weightage to engagement and meaning.

Positive psychotherapy or counselling

Positive Psychotherapy suggests simple yet effective research-based interventions for increasing our happiness levels in each of these areas. Some examples are:

Positive psychotherapy or counselling
Interventions that enhance pleasure Interventions that enhance engagement Interventions that enhance meaning
  • Gratitude and forgiveness exercises
  • Optimism and hope interventions
  • Savoring and meditating on positive emotions
  • Assessment of character strengths and finding ways to use these strength
  • Making sense of one’s life story
  • Visualizing one’s best possible self

If you would like to experience these positive psychology exercises and work towards a happier life, you could talk it over with a counsellor.

Talk It Over


Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York, NY:  Penguin Press.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Positive psychology, positive prevention and positive therapy. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), The handbook of positive psychology (pp. 3-8). New York, NY:  Oxford University Press.
Seligman, M. E. P., Rashid, T., & Parks, A. C. (2006). Positive psychotherapy. American Psychologist. Retrieved from
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

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About Malavika Dhillon

Malavika Dhillon is a practicing counsellor and co-founder of TalkItOver. She has completed her MBA in Human Resources and an MSc. in Counselling Psychology. Prior to working as a counsellor, she has worked in Human Resources and Leadership Development. She shares that as a counsellor, it is a joy for her to use her strengths to partner with people on their unique journey of self-awareness and growth. She is passionate about well-being and through her own experience, knows counselling to be one of the paths that can contribute to well-being in various spheres of our lives.