Happiness is…eating potato chips!

Happiness is…eating potato chips!

In yet another thought provoking article from Positive Psychology News Daily, the idea that happiness might come from learning how to eat potato chips is raised in the context of strengths and especially, self-regulation. Happiness is definitely not simple hedonism but rather, living a good life in wich pleasures are balanced with wise decisions and meaningful pursuits. Here’s a small exerpt…

Strengths come from translating our values into behavior. While the science of positive psychology is relatively new, the strengths we act on are not. Focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses is also nothing new. It is founded in the timeless and enduring virtues that the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, spoke and wrote of nearly 2400 years ago. He claimed that a major purpose in life was to experience happiness through living a virtuous life. One way is to experience _ã–excellence of activity._㝠When you know how to do something well and act on it, it can bring pleasure, engagement, and meaning. The more things you know how to do well, the more avenues you will have for enjoyment and flourishing.

Developing strengths requires time and experience. The strengths we talk of are predicated on six virtues, including the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. Aristotle claimed that a virtue or strength is developed through action: _ã–Brave people became brave by doing brave things._㝠He said there were six states of character development: brutishness, self-indulgence, weakness of will or caving into temptation, strength of will or mastering temptation, character excellence, and heroic excellence.

According to this model, all humans are born brutish in nature, crying for food and attention, then moving through the other stages, hopefully leading to character excellence. Because of the eventual consequences of acting brutishly, most people learn that this behavior is not acceptable to others. Therefore, most people move up the _ã–food chain_㝠and eventually develop a sense of self-indulgence, a trait that is more common in young people and occasionally seen in adults. Those who act self-indulgently yield to their desires and are excessive and self-gratifying.

Self-indulgent people who have come to realize that this action doesn_ã_t serve the good of others have taken a large step in the development of their characters. However, they may still be weak of will and succumb to temptation. Even though they still can_ã_t change their behavior, they intellectually know how they should behave.

After struggling with temptation, a person may develop strength of will. Although a person may still have a desire to act in a certain way, he or she is no longer controlled by the impulse because, through experience, the behavior is known to be hurtful to self and others. The impulse may still be present, but the person chooses to act differently and is therefore in control.

A virtuous state of character is acquired through diligent ritual and rehearsal until the person eventually doesn_ã_t feel the desire as much. Moderation or character excellence differs from mastering temptation in that it is built on accumulated practice from reflections on experiences and artful narratives. It also involves balanced and precise thought about short and long-term consequences, as well as clear goals, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. This person performs right actions as a matter of habit.

The highest possible character state is called heroic excellence, displayed in acts of great courage or self-sacrifice that go above and beyond the call of duty.

All of these stages are summarized in the figure below, shared by Dr. Steven Tigner…

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