midlife coaches karen and curtis herbert

11 | HAPPINESS: The Pleasant Life, the Good Life, and the Meaningful Life

We’ve been discussing happiness. 

Aquinas views the desire for happiness as ingrained in and being inseparable from, our humanity. We want to be with God because we desire happiness. We are made for Him. 

There are some schools of thought based on an idea that we should be disinterested in happiness and entirely focused on serving God and others. That’s not how human nature works. 

Happiness is sometimes used to refer to just feeling good or pursuing pleasure. We are talking about something broader than that. 

Humans are pretty good at giving up short term pleasure in favor of more fulfilling activities. Think in those terms. 

Happiness isn’t always within reach. Nor will we get to “100%” on this side of the Valley of life. Good choices are critical. “Good choices” in contrast to “best choices.” Trying to make the “best” choice is paralyzing. 

Holiness and happiness are traveling companions. If they aren’t traveling together in your life, take a look and figure out what’s going on. 

Followers of The Catholic Midlife podcast “get it” when it comes to pursuing love of God and neighbor as our highest good. 

Sometimes we forget that there’s more to life than a spiritual life and the obligations we’ve taken on. 

We are embodied persons, not spiritual machines. There’s the mental and emotional life that we want to have in alignment with our spiritual life. We are also physical beings with relationships and live in an environment that surrounds us. 

Here’s a perspective on happiness offered by positive psychologist Martin Seligmann. He suggests three levels that exist simultaneously for us: 

The Pleasant Life – appreciating basic pleasures like companionship, our environment, and our bodily needs.

The Good Life – creatively using our unique virtues and strengths to enhance our lives. 

The Meaningful Life – fulfillment in employing our unique strengths for a purpose greater than ourselves.

The Pleasant Life – appreciating  basic pleasures like companionship, our environment, and our bodily needs.

The Good Life – creatively using our unique virtues and strengths to enhance our lives. 

The Meaningful Life – fulfillment in employing our unique strengths for a purpose greater than ourselves. 

Martin E.P. Seligman

The pleasant life is sometimes discussed as the “thing” to be opposed. As the “thing,” we are trying to contrast something else with – like responsibility, obligation, or a sacrifice for something greater. 

We all need to learn to set the pleasant life aside for something bigger. Hopefully, we learn this before we waste a lot of time pursuing pleasure to the exclusion of the bigger picture. 

At the same time, remember that the pleasant life has a role to play in contributing to what it means to be a flourishing human. To be a human that can live up to his or her potential. That gets things done. That is effective. That wants to be here. 

Give the pleasant life some respect. It has a role to play for you. 

The good life is about engaging character strengths, those virtues, and talents that you have, those things you like to use when you’re doing good –  when you’re making things happen, and accomplishing things. When you are using your strengths, it’s helpful to create engagement – that sense of being involved, of making a good effort. 

Everyone has things they do well. Leverage those if you want the good life. It creates a lot of satisfaction. If you feel like a cog in the machine, it’s tough to show up at your best. When the activity is “pulling you in,” you are likely in a role where you are effective and have enjoyment or at least satisfaction. 

Engagement is often overlooked when we are thinking about “what’s missing” in life. We often have pretty good intuition about other factors. With a lack of engagement, it’s easy for the pleasant life to try to grab you and try to take over. Without engagement, working your tail off all day in the home or outside of it becomes drudgery and it’s natural to compensate by grabbing an emotional boost with a snack, the beer, whatever. “Compensate” can be great; “overcompensate” is not so great, right? 

There are times when we have to just suck it up. We are adults, we are good at that. We also have a strong sense of responsibility. So we suck it up. As you do that, remember that there may be some ways you can create engagement and interest in the midst of all that. Email us to ask for a tip. 

The meaningful life involves living with purpose and meaning; connecting your strengths, your values, who you are, to something that’s bigger than yourself, and making a contribution to something bigger than you. This requires action. 

Focusing on your strengths, your values, and your highest purposes is so helpful. If you are focused on somebody else’s values, or what somebody else thinks is what you “should” be doing, it starts to feel like you are living somebody else’s life. That you lack choice. 

God made you uniquely and for purposes that you and He will work out. Fitting into someone else’s schema for your life is not such a great plan. Because you were made to freely choose. It’s up to you. You have to own this, and step into it. 

Nobody will do this “for” you. You do it.

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karen and curtis herbert as a midlife coaches

We are Karen and Curtis Herbert, founders of The Catholic Midlife. Our mission is to spark a catholic midlife renewal and help YOU to step into your next season with purpose, hope, and a clear vision for the rest of your life.

Because the rest of
your life matters. 

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