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OCW 3, Marrying Pleasure and Meaning

Updated on January 1, 2012


This New Years, I married pleasure and forgetfulness, and it was somewhat unsatisfying. I remember the headache a lot more than escalating degrees of ecstasy which I have some memory of. This article is about marrying the aspects of the PERMA happiness formula which I have been trying with some progress but I could use a lot more success and advice.

PERMA stands for:

Pleasure

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Accomplishment

It’s a formula for happiness promoted by Dr. Martin Seligman, and it looks pretty good to me. The parts are self-explanatory I think. But how do you attempt to have them all or as many as you can while say, cleaning the house?

I don’t know is generally my answer to all absolutist questions, but I have some ideas. Doing a mundane task, pleasure is possibly the hardest thing to experience. As a short cut, I will say pleasure results from a flow experience brought about by variable reinforcement from positive feedback (see Flow; variable reinforcement). Even eating and sexual pleasure seem to show this pattern. Pleasure may also be mental, physical, and social.

We can possibly experience pleasure through the other aspects of the equation, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning-making, and Accomplishing tasks. We simply have to have positive feedback coming on a variable reinforcement schedule. This is not easy, but it is a personal journey for each of us to discover how to effect these conditions with the tasks we do. In the previous example, during housecleaning we might create pleasure by doing it in a meditative ‘be here now’ consciousness, while challenging ourselves physically to make an exercise of it, estimating calories burned (E, M); listening to music (M, P); performing physically satisfying movements (E); reflecting on how much better things look (P); thinking about how we and others will live easier because of how clean things are (R, M, A); challenging ourselves to work more efficiently (E). A general way to add meaning to tasks is to understand that anytime you are able to create happiness during a task, you are writing the code to liberation for yourself and others, your family and children. Imagine if you discovered how to find pleasure in mopping the floor. Not only will you have easy access to joy in your life, you can possibly teach your children how to be satisfied with mundane chores rather than unsatisfied, miserable, and bored with all things. And it certainly rubs off on others. If you were to discover how to create happiness in most situations, you can literally liberate your soul from the tyrannies of life and provide an example for others also, as is the goal of many meditative traditions.

So before you start a task, say PERMA and figure out how the task can meet some of those conditions, and when you get done, review it.

I won’t go through the rest of the formula separately because I think you get the idea. What do you think? What are some ways you add Pleasure, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments to the tasks that you must do?

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