By Daniela Anéis

“There’s no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh

We all seek our own form of happiness although most of the time, we can’t exactly describe or know what it means to be happy. Is it a constant state of happiness? Is it the little things and the little happy moments we live? Is it a general sense of satisfaction with your life? Or is it a path of self-discovery, where we realize along the way what we really need is self-growth and a meaning to our lives?

In his 2011 book Flourish, Martin Seligman defines the main goal of Positive Psychology not as the quest for happiness but to flourish as a human being. But what does it exactly mean to flourish?

If you think of yourself as a “constant work-in-progress” and, as the Greeks have advised centuries ago at the entry of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know thyself,” you’ll come to the conclusion that the humankind’s goal should be self-knowledge instead of the accumulation of knowledge on its own—a wise advice I must point out. The best you can do in pursuit of becoming the better version of yourself is to continue in a path of self-discovery and constant learning, in sum, to flourish. Of course, that will not happen except if you can maintain throughout your life a necessary curiosity and ability to be wondered and amazed by what’s around you.

Felicia Huppert and Timothy So from Cambridge University tried to measure flourishing in 23 nations and came to the conclusion that, to flourish, people should have the nuclear characteristics and three of the six additional ones described below:

Nuclear characteristics:
Positive Emotions, Involvement, Interest, Meaning and Purpose
Additional Characteristics:
Self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination and positive relationships

Some of these characteristics may seem to you as innate, and if you’re not an optimist or have low self-esteem, you may think it’s going to be hard to flourish. But you’d actually be surprised to find out that you can re-programme your mind, change your attitude and follow the right track to flourishing. Please do not look at this list of characteristics as a mere list, where you check what you’ve got. There’s more to it than that. Basically, think of this list as challenges to face and things to learn.

One of Martin Seligman’s most powerful messages with the concept of flourishing, to me at least, is that we all have an enormous potential for self-growth to be uncovered, we are more than what lies on surface and there’s always some room to become a fulfilled human being. And that’s when Positive Psychologists start to talk about the full life.

Living the full life (versus the empty one?)

When you’ve reached a certain point in your life where you just can’t wander off and discover the world—or flourish—you will want to look back and have a sense of having lived a full life, a life worth living. That is basically the endgame—It was all worth it and you’d be happy to live it again if you could. And that definitely, you’ve made the best with what you had.

If you believe that happiness is not a constant state of mind, but moments of intense emotional meaning and well-being, you’ll come to the conclusion that, you can call that the full life, as you can tell by the example below.

Recently, we threw a party at a senior’s community-based project for active seniors I work on. Alzira, a 68-year-old widow that has been with us for three years now, danced all afternoon. She had confessed to me at another time, that after having had a serious back problem this year that threw her into the hospital and then bed rest for nearly three weeks, she was never going to miss out on the opportunity to dance while she could. When I called her on the phone to see how she was doing, I said to her, “Your mission in this world is not over yet. You still need to take your grandchildren down the altar.” She laughed on the other side of the phone. Her grandchildren are all under the age of ten.

I walked up to her at the party and said, “That’s the spirit!” She told me that when her husband was alive they would always be the last ones to leave the dance floor at any party. I replied that her husband must have been very proud at that moment looking down on her having so much fun as they used to. Her eyes teared up, she smiled and said to me, “You’re damn right he is.”

Alzira is definitely living the full life and an example to all of us.

How do you reach a full life? I’m going to present you with my reading of several authors and what I’ve learned from them:

  • Having good roots. We are made up of our memories and that’s probably why Alzheimer’s hurts so much on everyone. It feels like the person you love is simply disappearing in front of you. But if you feel rooted to a place, to people, to a cause, to an idea—you’re living a full life. Even if it’s only through the good memories you’re keeping.
  • Feeling deeply connected to others. We are social creatures, from the moment we arrived in this world crying so our mothers hold us in their arms until the moment we leave and we don’t want to die alone. Having loved and being loved by others is what we here for. So, next time think about this: use objects, love people. Not the other way around.
  • Assigning meaning to your life. Was it all worth it? Did you make a difference (even if no-one else recognizes it?)? If the answer is yes, then you can positively say you’ve lived/are living the full life.

Of course there’s more to it than that. But let’s say these are some of the most important elements. And what about the empty life? It’s wrong to think of this issue as a dichotomic one, it’s not all black and white—there are shades of grey in this matter. But if you’re feeling the emptiness in your life, the lack of meaning, then now is a good time to know yourself—or to start that journey of self-discovery, to flourish and become the better version of yourself—towards a full life.


Daniela Anéis
About Daniela Anéis
Leiria | Portugal

Daniela Anéis has been a clinical psychologist since 2009, with a Masters degree in Systemic at Lisbon University, Portugal. Her first experience as a clinical psychologist was in a private and Catholic mental hospital, the eldest religious congregation in the country devoted to mental health – and a real school. In 2012, she created a community based project at her hometown called Senior’s University which, through volunteer work, teaches classes to people over their 50’s and most of them retired. There are no homework, no tests and no diplomas, only people learning and enjoying life. Besides the classes, the parties, and the field trips, the main objective is to promote active ageing and enhance people’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

As a therapist in private practice, she often works with families and teenagers. She will read anything and everything that has to do with Existential Psychology and Positive Psychology.

Daniela Anéis is an optimistic and her “glass is always half-full.” Her work with active Seniors has taught her to value life even more and most importantly, life-experience. She teaches an Emotional Intelligence and Positive Psychology class but learns far more than she could ever pass on. She always has an inspiring story to tell about her “students”.

She’s hoping to reach 90 and live life to the fullest. Always working to be the better version of herself. And believing her mission in life is to relieve others from suffering.

Read more about Daniela at her blog. (In Portugese)

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