One effective way to construct a more challenging and meaningful life involves including more ‘gratifications’, which are experiences that draw upon our particular skills and strengths, bringing the experience of flow or ‘becoming lost’ in a pursuit. “It is the total absorption, the suspension of consciousness, and the flow that gratifications produce that defines liking these activities—not the presence of pleasure,” wrote Martin Seligman, a leading researcher in the field of Positive Psychology, of gratifications. “Total immersion, in fact, blocks consciousness, and emotions are completely absent.”
Seligman and other Positive Psychology researchers also recommend that people include various pleasures in their day, but gratifications bring a different experience. Gratifications don’t necessarily bring cheerfulness or ecstasy, but they do bring total engagement, lack of self-consciousness, and fulfillment. The beneficial experience of gratifications is more lasting. And gratifications are accessible to those who may not be naturally bubbly and cheerful. “The great benefit of distinguishing between pleasure and gratification is that even the bottom half of the population (three billion people) in terms of positive affect is not consigned to unhappiness,” wrote Seligman in his book, Authentic Happiness, referring to people who aren’t naturally cheerful and bubbly. “Rather, their happiness lies in the abundant gratifications that they can have and hold.”
Adding gratifications to one’s life doesn’t mean excluding pleasures; both can fit well. In addition to the mix of pleasures described in this article for pleasures and stress relief, adding gratifications can lead to greater, lasting fulfillment and more positive feelings, a richer mix of positive experience. Such gratifications may include a hobbies—everything from knitting to rock climbing to painting creative works of art; a fulfilling work life that includes tasks that are suited to an individual’s strengths—a job as a composer for a musically-oriented person, or a job doing computer programming for someone whose skill set matches these tasks; or activities in general life that stimulate and challenge, like taking courses to further one’s career, or leading a committee in the PTA.
The following are gratifications that can help relieve stress by bringing enjoyable challenge to your life:
GardeningGardening is a wonderful gratification to engage in because it brings the benefits of nature and the enjoyment of a beautiful living space as well as the experience of flow. See this article for more on gardening for stress relief..
Solving Mental PuzzlesTaking a break from a stressful day to do some mental exercises provides a break in the action and allows you to use your mental strengths—an especially convenient gratification for those with busy schedules. Visit About.com’s website devoted to puzzles and find hundreds of free forms of entertainment.
VolunteeringVolunteer to use your special strengths to help others, and you will experience the benefits of altruism as well as those of gratifications. Here are more reasons why it pays to volunteer.
DrawingWhether you’re doodling on a napkin or creating a farmable work of art with an artist’s sketch pad, drawing is a creative gratification that can provide you with something beautiful to show for it later. See these resources on learning to draw as a stress relief and gratifications tool.
WritingJournaling, creating short stories, or maintaining a career as a writer are all ways to enjoy the gratification of writing, an activity that brings benefits to the writer as well as others who are invited to read. Read more about the benefits and practice of journaling to get started!
What gratifications do you enjoy?