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  • Writer's picturePaula Robertson

The art of happiness

Updated: May 16, 2023

How to embrace the 5 elements of happiness

I was fascinated recently by the work of Dr Tal Ben-Shahar, cofounder of the Happiness Studies Academy and world-renowned expert on happiness. He makes the distinction that happiness is not the absence of sadness, but instead becoming fully present to the whole range of human experience; in other words, living a full and fulfilling life.

He also discusses the fact that happiness isn’t found in the ‘when…..then’ trap ( for example, ‘ When I get that job, then I’ll be happy!’) , because the good feelings associated with attaining an external goal tend to be short-lived. Instead, we need to look at ways in which we can grow our own happiness inside of us. Interestingly, having a sense of happiness within us has been shown to lead to improved success, health and relationships.

Another paradox is that if we try to directly pursue the things that we believe will make us happy, we often fail to sustain that sense of wellbeing. Instead, happiness is best pursued by indirect means, fulfilling the elements that then contribute to a sense of fulfilment in our lives. The path to happiness requires us to pursue the five main elements, which Dr Ben-Shahar describes as the SPIRE model. These are the Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational and Emotional paths. Each of these can then be further divided into two sub groups, making up a total of ten paths.

Let’s look at these more closely:

Spiritual Well-being. This includes:

  • The path of Purpose: Having a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Take time to think about and journal on: what drives you, gives you sense of meaning and makes you feel fulfilled?

  • The path of Mindfulness: Taking time to be truly present in the moment, rather than being distracted by technology or a long ‘to-do’ list. This could be in the form of a 5-minute practice each morning, just noticing your breathing or checking in with how you feel.

Physical Well- Being. This includes:

  • The path of Exercise: Making sure you move your body every day. One easy way to start is to include simple inconveniences, for example, taking the stairs rather than the elevator.

  • The path of Recovery: Allowing your body and mind to rejuvenate and recover from stress, for example including relaxation, massage, taking a walk or being in nature.

Intellectual Well-being. This includes:

  • The path of Failure. Yes, failure. Do you allow yourself the opportunity to learn and grow from mistakes? It’s important to reflect on and learn from our errors so we know what to do differently next time – in doing so, our mistakes can be our greatest teachers.

  • The path of Journaling. This allows us to go within and learn more about ourselves. Having a daily journaling practice at the start or end of each day can be a great way to start this journey of self-understanding.

Relational Well-being. This includes:

  • The path of Real Relationships. Here the focus is on maintaining real connections with those who are important to us. Take the time to schedule meet-ups with friends for a coffee or walk, for example.

  • The path of Giving. Think about ways that you can give and be of service to others in your community. Often you find that you receive way more (in terms of fulfilment and wellbeing) in return.

Emotional Well-being. This includes:

  • The path of Acceptance: This is about being gentle and kind with yourself, accepting who you are, and embracing all of your feelings and emotions (even the difficult ones). Really noticing and naming our feelings and emotions can also loosen their hold on us. Remember, emotions in themselves are neither good nor bad, but we can choose about how to act on them.

  • The path of Gratitude. Taking time to be grateful for what we have has been shown to significantly improve our wellbeing…and create space for more abundance in our lives. So why not think about three things you are grateful for at the end of the day…and take a moment to really feel gratitude for what you have?

'The good news is that everything is interconnected, so making small changes in one path has an impact on others' (Dr Tal Ben-Shahar)

The good news is that we don’t need to do all the steps all at once. Everything is interconnected, so focusing on one path and making small changes there can have an impact on other paths. For example, focusing on your physical wellbeing has an impact on relational and emotional well-being. The important thing is just to make a start in working towards your happiness and fulfillment.

So what small changes will you incorporate today?

To your journey on embracing your happiness!

Be well,


Dr Paula Robertson is a busy mom and a paediatrician with over twenty years' experience working with young people and their families. You can find out more at

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