In last week’s post, we saw how aspects of author/entrepreneur Ali Farrell’s life contributed to her happiness or well-being, from romping with her kids and dog and authoring books to co-creating an organization to benefit commercial fishermen during COVID. We also saw how legendary psychologist Martin S. Seligman would view her behaviors as steps on three very different routes to happiness, pursuing pleasure, engagement, and meaning. https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/balancedpsychologyarticle.pdf

A video interview with one of the women featured in Farrell’s book, Pretty Rugged, helps us understand what such activities can lead to for an individual, according to Seligman’s perspective. https://unitedfishermenfoundation.com/uff-interviews

Julie Eaton has been lobstering off the coast of Maine for more than 34 years. That’s Julie at the helm of her boat in today’s main image, artwork by Kathleen A. Fox.  “Working on the water,” as they call it, is hard and dangerous work, but the interview quickly shows us that for Julie and her fellow lobstermen, the job of lobstering is far more just a day gig. “This isn’t what we do. It’s who we are.” Clearly, such individuals achieve the second kind of happiness with work engagement so intense and important to them that it becomes how they identify themselves.

Captain Julie Eaton

“Honest to God,” she asserts, “I’m not eloquent enough to tell you what it means to be on the water. It’s something that’s truly in your soul. It’s something that I live and breathe and eat about and dream about every day.” 

And this work’s meaning to others in her community? “It’s what makes our coastal community thrive. It touches every aspect of our life.” In this interview and in others, she speaks with passion and pride about her work and her community. She might not think she’s eloquent, but that word exactly describes how she comes across in this interview. Clearly, this is a woman who throws herself into her work, deriving much gratification from it.  

Another interview reveals more about Julie Eaton’s drive to use her energy and numerous character strengths in ways that benefit others (that third route to well-being). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP56aaHFHVM A member of the machinists union, she made this presentation for them last year. Watch it and see what she’s done for her neighbors during COVID.

Dr. Seligman, one of the founders and leaders of positive psychology might tell us that this woman who pulls bounty from the ocean and instinctively thinks of what she can do to assist others “catches” great gratification and meaning through her work (job and other activities). You probably know such individuals. You might be one of them.

If you’re devoted to one or more of the three well-being/happiness paths, to what kind of life might that lead? Here’s how Seligman sums it up.

  1. The tendency to pursue happiness “by boosting positive emotion” (as simple as devouring an ice cream cone or as complicated as forgiving someone or cultivating a sense of hope), Seligman calls “the pleasant life.”
  2. The tendency to pursue happiness “via gratifications” he describes as “the good life.”
  3. “And the tendency to pursue happiness by using our character strengths towards something larger than ourselves,” he identifies as “the meaningful life.”

Most people make a go of Number 1, wouldn’t you say? Many achieve Number 2, and some go for all three. Doing so is what Seligman calls “the full life.”

I suspect that Julie Eaton hits the grand slam of well-being. Likewise author Ali Farrell, whom we’ve profiled in this space.

Lobsterman, union member, photographer, motorcyclist Julie Eaton

Let no one misunderstand—pursuing well-being is worthwhile but cannot prevent life’s ups and down and bumps and bruises. But striving for the full life is good way to live.

In case you’re interested, I taught these concepts to my community college students, and wrote about the experience in Open Admissions.

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Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on nedbachus.com and on his OPEN ADMISSIONS Facebook Page. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.