If I could manifest the perfect beach day, it would look like last Saturday here in the little trailer park in the pine woods “down the shore.”
Low eighties. Light sea breeze.
Sun bright. Clouds puffy. Humidity low.
Instead of spending it sunbathing, I got hot, sweaty and dirty erasing three seasons’ worth of neglect from the front porch.
I swept piles of dirt from the floor. Wiped a thick coat of plaster dust, left by the worlds sloppiest contractor, from the windows. Scrubbed creepy crud and tenacious spider webs off the furniture.
Which did nothing for my happiness.
But it sure did boost my well-being.
Which got me thinking.
As I disinvited yet another daddy longlegs from the patio, I couldn’t stop thinking about an article that was all over my social media feeds last week.
It didn’t do much for my happiness, either.
People whom I respect and with whom I generally agree swooned over it, when all it did for me was fuel my impatience with those who categorically dismiss evidence based positive psychology as navel gazing b.s. and claim that the entire personal development field is nothing but a bunch of money-grubbing gurus and charlatans.
It especially frosts me when the only alternatives the complainers offer are as unproven and unactionable as the advice of the actual charlatans. (Yup, they exist. In every profession.)
Pronouncements to “think revolutionarily” and “fight for a different paradigm!” (exclamation point not mine) are about as actionable as suggestions to sit around and do nothing but think positive thoughts, chant affirmations and meditate on how “it gets better.”
No, cultivating false happiness isn’t nearly enough to solve real and systemic problems like income disparity, poverty, racism, sexism, elder abuse, starving children or climate change.
Neither is cultivating genuine happiness, for that matter.
But when you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, without direction, nearly out of hope and both stuck and spinning at the same time, you’re not going to solve any of those issues, either.
Or even your own issues.
So, no, happiness isn’t enough.
Well-being, on the other hand, is essential – to cultivating the capacity, resilience and renewable personal fuel to create meaningful change.
Far from the airy-fairy whispers of self-proclaimed gurus, the theory of well-being is based on research and its benefits are based on evidence.
And positive emotion is an essential part of that evidence-based well-being.
Here’s how cleaning the porch on a beautiful Saturday afternoon fueled my well-being even when it made me anything but happy.
I experienced engagement within, losing track of time and feeling replenished when I was done, from the moment I dragged out the vacuum cleaner until the one when I put the finishing touches on the herb garden. Thinking about how much my mom enjoys the (clean) patio fueled my meaning and purpose.
When my work was finished, I felt a great sense of achievement and positive emotions like pride, contentment and satisfaction, and sitting on the porch and watching the fireflies that evening deepened my relationships with my family and the natural world.
No, giving up a gorgeous Saturday afternoon didn’t make me happy.
Or help me solve any of the world’s significant problems.
By boosting my well-being, though, it helped me cultivate the capacity, resilience and renewable personal fuel I need to create meaningful change.
Cultivating well-being can do that for you, too.