In a recent New York Times article, columnist Laura Holson asked the question, “Are we living in a post- happiness world?”, and in her discussion, she contrasted “joy” with “happiness”. Happiness, as positive psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania describes it, consists of five qualities: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement (making up the acronym PERMA). Happiness, as described by these five traits, is something lasting and something that can be fostered over time: we can foster positive emotions through showing gratitude, we can foster engagement by persevering, we can foster relationships through kindness, we can find a sense of meaning through our spiritual lives, and we can foster achievement by using our talents freely.
Holson pointed out that happiness is hard to achieve for many people. News of violence, climate change, or political divisiveness can sap our positive emotions. Increased distractibility caused by technology can decrease our level of engagement. The isolating effect of social media can ruin relationships. The diminished attention to our spiritual lives can lessen our sense of meaning. And our tendency to increasingly compare ourselves to others can make us devalue our achievements.