The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society. They list and define the keys to well-being:

  • awe – the feeling that we get in the presence of something that challenges our understanding of world, like looking up at the night sky.
  • compassion – feeling that arises when we are confronted with another suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
  • empathy – the ability to sense other people’s emotions, along with the ability to imagine what someone else might thinking or feeling.
  • forgiveness – a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
  • gratitude – we affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we have received, including help from other people.
  • happiness – variance of joy, contentment or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile. (Sonja Lycomirsky)
  • mindfulness – maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.
  • social connection – feeling that you belong to a and generally feel close to other people.
  • altruism – when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves.

The online Greater Good Magazine includes research articles, videos and quizzes on each of these subjects.

In my own life, I’ve added a few other topics, aimed at living a good life even in the midst of health challenges. They are:

  • vulnerability – uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure; being able to ask for and accept help gracefully.
  • creativity – the ability to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods and interpretations.
  • patience – being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity.
  • generosity – being willing to share resources and strengths

All those qualities are lovely, but the list is a bit overwhelming. How do we practice these qualities of character? I do it by focusing on one kind promise each month. The promises move me from definition to action. Experimenting with how I might integrate those promises into my life keeps me mindful of my values.

This month, I am playing with the promise “I will spend my days in a way that enhances the well-being of myself and others.” I’m reminding myself of what constitutes well-being and making sure I am using my time well. (This is not to say I don’t binge on Netflix. Play is important too!)

Having research and tools to help define and practice what makes for a flourishing life is invaluable.

What qualities make for a successful life? How do you practice them?