As a child, I visited Disneyland several times. My home was less than 30 minutes away from the amusement park marketed as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
Other relatives lived nearby. My Uncle Rod once had a job as a cast member–an Indian paddling a canoe around Tom Sawyer’s Island.
My mom’s cousin spent a season as Tinker Bell, Peter Pan’s fairy friend. Lit up by a spotlight, she’d “fly” off the peak of the Matterhorn moments before Disneyland launched its summertime fireworks displays.
But in spite of Disneyland’s tag line that at least implies a promise of happiness, my pleasant memories of the park were spoiled by tired feet and legs for hours of walking between attractions and waiting in lines.
One of my better memories is of times outside the park. On summer evenings, my grandparents would put me in their Buick sedan, and drive me to an ice cream shop a few blocks away from Disneyland. They’d buy me some vanilla soft-serve, swirled to a point on top of a sugar cone. As I licked the cold ice cream, I’d sit on the car’s hood and watch the bursts of blue, green, red and orange as fireworks exploded above the Matterhorn.
Denmark consistently rates as the happiest place on earth in international surveys. Research psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D. and his team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania know why. It’s not the place. It’s the dominant culture embraced by the Danes the promotes a common sense of well-being, of health and happiness.
Disney tries hard to make their parks a positive experience, to produce an environment where happiness flourishes, if not only for a day or two. Their cast members wear smiles, quickly intervene with unhappy guests, and promptly remove anything that might cause disgust or despair.
But it’s you as an individual that controls the attitudes, actions and perspectives that determine your well-being.
5 Keys to Well-Being
Dr. Seligman has identified 5 elements, or keys that determine one’s degree of well-being:
1) Positive emotion
We produce positive emotion by what we think. Positive thoughts produce positive emotions like joy, gratitude and hope. A simple way I use to produce positive emotion is to spend some time each day reflecting on things I’m thankful for.
When I used to go with my grandparents to watch Disneyland’s fireworks, I’d lose track of time. The dazzle of the fiery explosions grabbed my attention so that time went by unnoticed. That’s engagement. Engagement occurs whenever we’re awake and alert but unaware of the passage of time. Examples of engaging activities may include a job you enjoy, a favorite hobby, a walk in nature, volunteering for a cause you believe in, reading a good story, and listening to or playing music that moves your soul.
3) Positive Relationships
The need for human community varies with people’s different temperaments. As an introvert, I need time alone (but not as much as my extroverted wife, who thrives on being with other people). We all need the companionship of other humans to some degree. We all need positive relationships to flourish and for our well-being.
I get my meaning from my faith in God, my belief in the Bible as God’s inspired message that calls me to love others. Meaning gives a core to our being that enables us to really live. Without meaning and purpose we only exist to consume–meaning and purpose equip us to give back to the world. For more on this, read my series of posts on how to find your life purpose.
I get satisfaction out of getting things done, whether it’s mowing the lawn, completing a project, or finishing a walk. Accomplishment is about starting something, measuring your progress, and completing it. In contrast to leaving things undone, accomplishment gives us the pleasure of knowing we did something of value.
Bringing It Home
It appears the Danes have more successfully woven these keys into their culture than other nations in the world. But wherever you are, you can bring them home. Take these simple steps:
- Cultivate positive emotions by keeping a daily journal of things you’re thankful for. At the end of each day, use it to write down 3 things you’re thankful for, or that went well that day.
- Write a list of at least 3 activities that engage you to the point where the passing of time goes unnoticed. Make time to do at least one of these thing daily.
- Do something kind for someone you know, or would like to know, at least once daily to strengthen your positive relationships. For example, you may give a compliment, do a favor, or offer encouraging words.
- Summarize what gives your life meaning. Make it short enough that you can fit it on a Post-It® note and stick it where you’ll be reminded to reflect on it daily.
- Every morning, make a daily task list. Put your day’s priorities at the top of the list. Work to accomplish those things first. At the end of each day, review the list and check off each item you completed. Those things you didn’t complete, sort them in order of priority and put on tomorrow’s list.
You can improve your well-being by taking some simple steps. What steps have you already taken? What more do you need to do? Share with a comment below.