any people are
instigated to actively
seek happiness only
when things do not go
Otherwise, most
people would be satisfied to
continue life as it is.
People also often advise one
another to “be happy”.
Yet, it is actually quite
difficult to just flick on some
mental or emotional switch
and suddenly “be happy”.
We first need to
understand that we are
socialised to focus more on
the negative aspects than
the positive ones.
Take, for instance, the
recent haze and the
outpouring of negative
comments across
We never focused on the
daily fresh air that we were
blessed with until the smog
came along.
When put in neutral or
uncertain situations, we
commonly jump to negative
conclusions, discount the positive
ones and imagine worst-case
Recall the last time your boss
called you into his office.
Thinking you were about to get a
pay raise was probably the last thing
on your mind.
Happiness, as conceptualised by
the American psychologist, Dr Martin
Seligman, can be simplified into
three dimensions – pleasure,
engagement and meaning.
While pleasure, such as laughter
and positive emotions, is one aspect
of happiness, holistic happiness
encompasses being involved with life
with a sense of purpose, which can
ultimately bring about a sense of
Pleasure may be understood as the
frequent experience of positive
One way to enhance this is to
learn to count your blessings.
To practise this, you can write
down three things that you feel
blessed for in your life, every day.
This is a helpful exercise,
especially when things are going well
and we tend to take our blessings for
granted. Blessings that are easily
overlooked include our family,
friends, employment and good
When nothing seems to be going
your way, it may be hard to do this
But persisting with this exercise
can foster a deeper sense of
appreciation for the small blessings
in our lives.
Engagement in life refers to the
depth of involvement in one’s life.
Happiness in this sense is not
dragging your feet through the day,
every week day, looking forward only
to the weekend.
The use of one’s signature
strengths is one way to allow for
greater engagement in life.
Try to recall past instances when
others have complimented you, for
example, on your creativity.
Seek out opportunities to utilise
those identified strengths where you
can, such as by offering to help a
colleague design something.
Slowly, you will find yourself more
engaged and positively reinforced in
the things that you do.
Being aware of one’s signature
strengths also allows one to make a
significant contribution, and be more
actively involved in work and life.
Finally, the most important ingredient
of happiness is arguably to find
meaning in one’s life.
This means purposefully
associating what one does to
something larger than oneself.
While this may not necessarily
bring immediate satisfaction, it
allows one to feel directed in one’s
actions and fosters meaning.
The first step to building meaning
in your life would be to reflect on your
values and goals.
Values help to show the direction
forward, like a compass.
They help you to think about where
you want to be and what needs to
change to get you there.
Goals then allow you to apply
these values in a tangible manner.
Be clear about your values and
goals and actively work towards
For instance, young parents may
complain about their baby keeping
them up all night, but they continue
to nurture their child.
This may be because the
couple value their family and
set the raising of a healthy,
well-loved child as their goal.
During the haze, there
were reports of individuals
and groups who reached
out to those needing help
by distributing masks and
herbal tea.
Some even offered
their homes to those who
needed temporary
These are fine
examples of extending
oneself in a meaningful
way, focusing on others.
As we develop more
meaning in our lives, we will
weather well the hardships
that we inevitably face along the
Research consistently tells us
that people without any mental
illness are not subjectively any
happier with life.
Just because one is not clinically
depressed, or does not have an
anxiety disorder, does not mean that
one is happy with life.
Happiness is measured through
subjective well-being, by asking
people to rate their satisfaction with
life and the amount of positive and
negative experiences they have.
We can all play an active role in
enhancing our own happiness levels
and should not wait until we are
feeling blue to do so.
Cultivating happiness not only
helps the individual, but also fosters
better families and societies.
Dr Joel Yang heads the Master of
Counselling programme at
SIM University, overseeing the
academic coursework and managing
the counselling practicum for
students. He is trained as a clinical
psychologist and previously worked at
the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
He has taught undergraduate
positive psychology courses and
conducted several positive well-being
The happiness formula