Foundations of Positive Psychology

Increase your life satisfaction

Psychological research by Professor Martin Seligman and others encourages you to distinguish between and build on the three “lives” that have the potential to enhance your life satisfaction. The lives are:

1. The "Pleasant Life" – this is when you enjoy things that give you positive emotion;

2. The "Good Life" – this occurs when you do things that you are good at and enjoy doing. They are called your "signature strengths";

3. The "Meaningful Life" – this is when you use your signature strengths to enhance the lives of others.

Click here to speak with one of our principals

What is the "Pleasant Life"

The “Pleasant Life” describes the enjoyment you get from outside stimuli, such as a good wine, delicious food, listening to fine music. These are the types of things that many people think would make them happier if they had more of them.

But the problem with such pleasures as drivers of happiness is that you become accustomed to them very quickly – the psychologists call it “habituation”. You require larger additional amounts to sustain the positive emotion. Otherwise, you quickly drop back to a set level of happiness that Seligman suggests is largely heritable and difficult to change.

While skills are identified to enhance the pleasures – savouring and mindfulness – a single minded focus on the “Pleasant Life” does not provide the foundation for sustainable increases in your life satisfaction.

Sign up for free information to help you make smart financial decisions

What is the "Good Life"

The “Good Life” is a life of engagement, where rather than looking for happiness from outside sources you derive happiness from activities or pastimes that you enjoy doing. When you are particularly engaged in an activity, time seems to stand still and you are in a state that the psychologists call “flow”.

Unlike the pleasures, that are entirely based on feel and emotion, when you are in a state of flow you feel nothing. You are totally absorbed.

You can increase your life satisfaction by finding activities in your work, play, relationships, parenting etc. that increase the amount of flow you experience. This is more likely to occur for activities where you use what Seligman calls your signature strengths:

"These are strengths of character that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if he or she can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting".

A total of twenty four individual strengths have been identified and are recognised by all cultures. These strengths are applied in the pursuit of the following six “virtues”:

  • Wisdom and knowledge;
  • Courage;
  • Love and humanity;
  • Justice;
  • Temperance;
  • Spirituality and transcendence.

Click here to speak with one of our principals

The virtues were found to be common across all religious and philosophical traditions. Those of most importance to your life satisfaction will be apparent from your revealed signature strengths . For example, the virtue of Wisdom and Knowledge is attained by the application of the following, increasingly more mature, strengths:

  1. Curiousity/Interest in the World;
  2. Love of learning;
  3. Judgement/Critical Thinking/Open-mindedness;
  4. Ingenuity/Originality/Practical Intelligence/Street Smarts;
  5. Social Intelligence/Personal Intelligence/Emotional Intelligence;
  6. Perspective

If you wish to find out what your signature strengths are, you can complete the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire at the Authentic Happiness website at www.authentichappiness.com. Generally, your signature strengths are those strengths that you rate in the top four or five. Seligman recommends that you use:

“… your signature strengths every day in the main realms of your life to bring abundant gratification and authentic happiness.”

Sign up for free information to help you make smart financial decisions

What is the "Meaningful Life"

The final life, the “Meaningful Life”, potentially provides the source of greatest life satisfaction. It derives from regularly applying your signature strengths in the service of something that is bigger than you.

Seligman believes that religion as a source of the meaningful life explains the link between religion and happiness. However, you do not need to be religious to enjoy a meaningful life. Clearly, various philanthropic activities that engage your signature strengths may provide you with great satisfaction.

But in other areas of your life such as work, relationships and play, signature strengths can be applied to the benefit of others. Seligman notes in distinguishing between a job, a career and a calling that:

“If you can find a way to use your signature strengths at work often, and you also see your work contributing to the greater good, you have a calling.”

Click here to speak with one of our principals

The "Full Life"

In summary, the findings of Positive Psychology suggest that to maximise your life satisfaction and lead the “full life” you need to be active in all three lives – the pleasant life, the good life and the meaningful life.

The findings also reveal that just living the pleasant life is an “empty life” with no contribution to lasting satisfaction. However, when combined with the good life and the meaningful life, it is effectively the “icing on the cake” and enhances the contribution of the other lives to overall life satisfaction.

We want our clients to live wealthy lives, in the holistic sense of the word “wealthy”. Positive psychology provides robust insights into what is required to become truly wealthy.

Download our free eBook "The Value of Financial Planning: The Wealth Foundations' Way"


This eBook makes the value of financial planning more concrete by examining actual client experiences with the "Wealth Foundations Way". It examines the changes in the financial situations of ten clients who have agreed to share their progress over the time they have been working with a Wealth Foundations' principal

* No registration required

Should you find our eBook of value, please feel free to email to a friend or colleague or post on your blog.