What is the key to happiness? A great job? A doting spouse? Maybe getting to take a blissful vacation once or twice per year?
A Florida State philosophy professor began looking at how both philosophers and psychologists study what makes a person happy. And that has led to a new theory on how to live the good life.
“There’s no secret elixir that’s going to work for everybody,” Professor Michael Bishop said. “But for most of us, our moms were right: The most important parts of a good life are strong, close relationships and fulfilling activities — work or play — that ensnare you in cycles of accomplishment, value and enjoyment.”
Bishop’s work is detailed in a new book, “The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychology of Well-Being.”
The new work merges the worlds of philosophy and psychology, which both delve into the nature of well being. Bishop noted that philosophers spend time theorizing without gathering facts, while psychologists generally worked in reverse fashion.
“Philosophers seem to be stuck in a never-ending stalemate about the nature of well-being,” Bishop said. “In the past 20 years or so, psychologists have systematically studied well-being. I started to realize that maybe we can use the science to break the philosophical logjam. We can resolve longstanding issues if we try to build a theory that makes sense of both the philosophy of well-being and the science of well-being.”
Bishop’s theory examines how many people get into a positive groove that can be built upon as they go through life. You may take up soccer or guitar and enjoy practicing. With practice, you improve and get some attention, which feels good so you’re motivated to practice more and further develop your skills.
“A similar sort of positive groove can happen at work,” he said. “You enjoy your job. So working hard isn’t hard. It’s a pleasure. And so you get into a success-breeds-success cycle of things you find valuable and enjoyable.”
Bishop cautions his new book doesn’t necessarily fall into the self-help genre, but it suggests a way to start thinking about how to get happiness and well being. People need to focus on what attitudes and accomplishments can yield positive feelings and networks for them moving forward.
“To make your life go better, you must become ensnared in long lasting positive networks,” he said. “What’s tough is sticking with it — as anyone who has made a New Year’s resolution knows. The trick is to choose wisely: Pick a new habit, attitude or activity that will become part of a positive network. It might start as a chore, but a resolution sticks much easier if it becomes part of a network of feelings, attitudes, habits and accomplishments you find valuable and enjoyable.”