The 3 F’s of Happiness


Would you like a formula for happiness? Here is my favorite, and it’s scientifically accepted.

   Fun  + Flow + Fulfillment =  Happiness

These are 3 “F” words worth repeating. They were gathered together by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., the father of positive psychology. Seligman is a world-renown psychologist, professor and author at the University of Pennsylvania. As president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, he encouraged researchers to focus their work on the field of positive psychology, which motivated thousands of scientists to research the following key questions:

  • What works?
  • How and why does it work?
  • How can we create more of it in our lives and organizations?

Of particular interest to positive psychologists is the topic of happiness, which brings us back to Seligman and the 3 F’s. Seligman’s work revealed that happiness is a result of the 3 F’s.

Fun, Flow and Fulfillment

1. Fun

This one is easy to describe. Fun is:

  • The stuff that makes us laugh and smile or jump for joy
  • The stuff we spent lots of time doing as kids, and considered to be a normal part of our day
  • The stuff we now watch our kids, and sometimes other folks enjoying

I think that physical fun, is an important part of the mix. Dancing like Elaine on “Seinfeld“, running like Phoebe on “Friends“, playing games or rough-housing with the kids or grand kids, hitting a ball over the net, across the field, or in the hole without caring too much about how it gets there are great ways to relax and to have fun. Sports are a great stress reliever, and can be fun, but if we approach them too seriously, they may end-up being not be as much fun. Make sure what you are calling fun, really is!

2. Flow

For this concept I need to give a shout out to Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee). Mihály is a Hungarian psychology professor, researcher and author and is a leader in the field of completely focused motivation, i.e. flow. Flow is that suspension-of-time feeling we have when we are deeply, maybe even blissfully, engrossed in what we are doing. For flow to occur the following must be in place:

  1. A clear set of goals
  2. A good balance between the challenge and skill. We have to believe we can do it.
  3. Immediate feedback. Feedback can be external or internal (Ex: That voice in our head saying “Okay maybe if I move it a little more to the right, no, back to the left, okay that’s good.” ) 

My favorite flow experiences are writing, public speaking, reading non-fiction, cleaning closets, and cooking. Flow can be felt when you are completely focused on a major grant, working on a case, making a diagnosis, cleaning a drain, scrubbing the tub, washing the car, playing cards or golfing. It’s the stuff that makes us forget all the other stuff.

When I decide to cook or make something to eat, I have a clear goal – I ‘m going to cook or make something to eat! I know I can do it, since I’ve had lots of successful experience, and I enjoy the challenge of rooting through the refrigerator and cupboards to see what’s available and then figuring out how to transform it into something delicious. During the process, I give myself lots of feedback, “Oh, we don’t have this, but we do have that”, “I wonder if that will mix well with this or should I try something else?”  My favorite internal and external feedback when cooking is always, “Mmm, that tastes good.”

Although flow activities are personal; flow experiences are universal. People of all cultures experience flow and describe it in a similar way including: losing track of time, feeling in the zone, and thinking only about task at hand.

3. Fulfillment

This is the warm and fuzzy or deep, rich, job-well-done feeling we get when we’ve accomplished something we are proud of or that matters to us. The “something” varies from person to person, month to month and task to task, and may include getting a college degree or cleaning that tub – the 3 F’s are  in the heart and mind of the beholder.

So now that we understand what we need, all we have to do is find ways to bring all three – fun, flow and fulfillment – into our lives. Remember, having one or two of the 3 F’s can enrich our lives, but being happy is dependent on having all three. (Did you notice that none of the 3 F’s mentioned money, health, prestige? More on the myths of happiness in  future posts.)

In April we will explore happiness in depth. Until then, you can get started by looking at your life to see if the 3 F’s are present, and if so, jot down when, where and how they occur. Paying attention to your experiences will help you create a foundation for the future, and help you recognize what actually makes you happy. Many adults don’t know what makes their hearts sing or their brains light up.

Writing this blog is a flow experience for me. I also find it fulfilling and to top off those 2 F’s with some fun, I’m going to head out the door for a walk with a few hops, skips and jumps thrown in. 

What one thing are you willing to do today to bring more happiness into your life? Start with something fun – just for fun, and we’ll work on the rest later.

WTW Dandelion


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