3 F’s of Happiness


Would you like a formula for happiness? Here’s 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. (The concepts are Seligman’s, the 3 F’s title is mine.)

Fun, Flow and Fulfillment

1. Fun

This one is easy to describe.

  • 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; and 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 wonderful stress reliever, and can be fun, but if we approach them too seriously, they may end-up being about winning or precision, which may 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 is the stuff that makes us forget all the other stuff.

When I decide to cook or make something to eat, I have a clear and simple goal – I am 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 that 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, tast to task, and month to month, and may include getting a college degree or cleaning that tub – the 3 F’s are in the heart and mind of the beholder.

Final thoughts

Now that you understand what you need, all you have to do is find ways to bring all three – fun, flow and fulfillment – into your life on a regular basis. Remember, having one or two of the 3 F’s can enrich your life, but being happy is dependent on having all three. (Did you notice that none of the 3 F’s mentioned money, health, or prestige?)

Take some time, to look at your life to see if the 3 F’s are present, 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 will help you recognize what truly makes you happy. Writing this blog is a flow experience for me. I also find it fulfilling and fun- one activity, 3 F’s, not bad!

Begin paying attention to what excites and delights you today, and build from there. Bring as many of “F’s” into your life, as possible.

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  1. Thanks for introducing in such a clear way this 3 concepts so pivotal in reaching more meaning and happiness in our life!


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