Happiness is an evasive pursuit for many people because they think of it as a circumstance completely outside of themselves. Some learn that they inherit a specific set point of happiness and resign themselves to expecting only a certain level of happiness. Others endlessly pursue pleasure only to find that happiness still eludes them. This experiment will test the effect of intentional activity on happiness levels, using strategies that have been empirically demonstrated to be effective in increasing happiness. One three-month happiness-increasing intervention based in behavioral and cognitive-attitudinal change will be conducted (Lyubomirsky, Tkach, Sheldon, 2004). Happiness-increasing physical, emotional, and cognitive exercises will be employed. It is hypothesized that this study will further demonstrate that increased happiness levels will be responsive to training and development of happiness inducing behaviors (Warner & Vroman, 2011).
Keywords: happiness, behavior change, attitude change, optimism
The Power of Intentional Happiness
Happiness has been an American obsession ever since its pursuit was first pledged as the right for all citizens in the Declaration of Independence. Today, happiness remains an enormous interest for groups as varied as philosophers, policy makers, and poets, and, progressively, for economists, popular psychologists, and happiness trainers. As any reading consumer can attest, rows of self-help books in any major bookstore are committed to the literature on happiness (Sheldon, Lyubomirsky 2006). Furthermore, the pursuit of happiness is becoming ever more global, as people seek to realize the promises of capitalism and political freedom (Freedman, 1978; Diener et al., 1995).
How one talks about happiness affects how one thinks about happiness. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (Hap, n.d.), the etymology of the English word, happy, stems from the root word hap, evolved from the Old Norse “happ”. Happ signifies chance, fortune, luck, and so forth. So, this ancient root meaning is still present in modern expressions such as happenstance, haphazard, hapless, and so forth. Language can condition thought, therefore, English-speakers may be strongly predisposed to think of happiness in terms of its word association with chance, fortune, luck, and so forth. This generates and reinforces the impression that human happiness is something that happens to people haphazardly or by happenstance, that is, something that they back into or stumble over unintentionally and inadvertently, not something that they can strive for and attain to by their own efforts (Gilbert, 2007; Watzlawick, 1983/1984). It would be a mistake to suggest that human happiness is something over which humans have little or no control. It would be an error, that is, to portray people who fail to become happy as hapless in the sense that they had just not been able to win a lot of money in the lottery of life (Heffernan, 2014). Other languages do not predetermine a connection between happiness and good fortune. For example, Aristotle’s Ancient Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, signifies good-spirited-ness which is not a matter of good fortune, but denotes intention (Aristotle, 1999). This piece of evidence alone warns against associating happiness with luckiness without further reflection. Rather, one should take a close look at happiness as a phenomenon of human experience, just as positive psychologists and analytical philosophers have been doing for some time (Heffernan, 2014).
Human beings do not live in a world that makes sense, but rather in a world of which they must make sense (Heffernan, 2014 & Camus, 1942/1955, 1942/1988). Hence, the real substance of human existence is not passively “given”, but rather actively “taken”, because the meaning of life, making sense of it all, involves an achievement of constitution, and it is the evidentiary result of an existential struggle for meaning (Husserl, 1936/1970, § 1). In other words, the sense of things in general, and the meaning of life in particular, are not discovered but created by individual human beings. Because a happy life is a meaning-bestowing or sense-constituting life, all this holds for human happiness too. Additionally, studies suggest that reflecting on the intentional experience of happiness enhances one’s chance of achieving happiness (Heffernan, 2014).
The viewpoint of hedonism focuses on pleasure as the basic component of the good life. In its most basic form, Hedonism is the belief that the pursuit of well-being is fundamentally a pursuit of individual sensual pleasures (Compton & Hoffman, 2013). This form of hedonism has been seen as self-defeating and ineffectual by most societies throughout history. Nearly everyone comprehends that sensual pleasures are short-lived, that they require a relentless struggle to sustain them, and that when focused on exclusively, produce no lasting changes in personality and no personal growth (Compton & Hoffman, 2013). Michael Steger (2009) suggested that meaning in life entails both purpose and a sense of significance. Indeed, feeling happy without a sense of purpose or significance essentially defines self-indulgent hedonism’s uncomplicated, naive pleasures. People seem to need a means of making sense of the world (Antonovsky, 1987). Hence, hedonism alone is not an adequate path to happiness.
It is assumed that an individual’s happiness level is in part determined by her or his set point, which is defined as the expected value within the person’s set range. The happiness set point is genetically determined and is assumed to be fixed, stable over time, and immune to influence or control (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade 2005). Previous studies of happiness variables suggest that genetics account for approximately 50% of the population variation (Braungart et al., 1992; Lykken & Tellegen, 1996; Tellegen et al., 1988) and circumstances account for approximately 10% (Argyle, 1999; Diener et al., 1999), leaving 40% of the variance for intentional activity. This study proposes to support more recent research supporting that the responsive epigenetic status of a gene can be altered by external stimuli and that these changes can be long lasting and give rise to purposeful consequences some time later (Isles, 2015). Changing one’s intentional activities may provide a happiness-boosting capacity that is at least as large as, and probably much larger than, changing one’s circumstances (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade 2005).
Research shows that the ability to be happy and contented with life is a central criterion of adaptation and positive mental health (Diener, 1984; Jahoda, 1958; Taylor & Brown, 1988). Compiled evidence shows the numerous byproducts of happiness appear to benefit individuals, families, and communities (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2004; see also Fredrickson, 2001). The Lyubomirsky et al. (2004) analysis further revealed that tangible benefits are gained in many different life domains of happy people from their positive state of mind, including richer social interactions, stronger social support, more friends, higher odds of marriage, lower odds of divorce (Harker & Keltner, 2001; Marks & Fleming, 1999; Okun, Stock, Haring, & Witter, 1984), greater creativity, increased productivity, higher quality of work, higher income (Estrada, Isen, & Young, 1994; Staw, Sutton, & Pelled, 1995), and more activity, energy, and flow (Csikszentmihalyi & Wong, 1991).
Additionally reinforcing the contention that personal happiness may be essential to mental and physical health, happy people are more likely to demonstrate greater self-control, greater self-regulatory abilities, greater coping abilities (Aspinwall, 1998; Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002; Keltner & Bonanno, 1997), to have a bolstered immune system (Dillon, Minchoff, & Baker, 1985; Stone et al., 1994), and even to live a longer life (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001; Ostir, Markides, Black, & Goodwin, 2000). Also, the literature suggests that happy individuals tend to be relatively more cooperative, prosocial, charitable, and “other-centered” (Isen, 1970; Kasser & Ryan, 1996; Williams & Shiaw, 1999). To summarize, happy individuals appear more likely to be flourishing people, both inwardly and outwardly (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005). Thus, this researcher argues that enhancing people’s happiness levels is indeed a worthy scientific goal.
Fordyce (1977) reported a series of three studies in which a program of happiness-increasing techniques was developed and used to successfully enhance the personal happiness of normal community college students, using known characteristics of happy individuals as a base. The program, called the “14 Fundamentals for Happiness,” was based on two in-depth reviews of over 300 past happiness research studies and their successive compilations (Fordyce, 1972). A great variety of personality and objective characteristics of happier individuals existed, but the majority were thought to be beyond the short-term control of most individuals (e.g., better health; higher income, heightened job status and satisfaction, sustained marital bliss; high social status, etc.). Therefore, the review process focused on a search for happiness characteristics that might be responsive to the short-term control of average individuals. Incorporated in several pilot programs for happiness training were these isolated of consistently reported traits. These programs were used with varying degrees of success in the original studies, and eventually the most efficacious components of the original programs were combined in the present 14 fundamentals—that is, 14 characteristics highly representative of happy individuals that average individuals appear able to emulate (Fordyce, 1983).
A brief description of the 14 fundamentals is as follows: “(a) keep busy and be more active; (b) spend more time socializing; (c) be productive at meaningful work; (d) get better organized and plan things out; (e) stop worrying; (f) lower your expectations and aspirations; (g) develop positive, optimistic thinking; (h) become present oriented; (i) work on a healthy personality; (j) develop an outgoing, social personality; (k) be yourself, (1) eliminate negative feelings and problems; (m) close relationships are the number one source of happiness; (n) put happiness as your most important priority (Fordyce, 1981)”. These plainspoken “happiness values” were built into a course of study that included explanations of each fundamental (with cognitive and behavioral techniques to actualize them), along with a general overview of the psychology of happiness (Fordyce, 1981).
What might happen if one were to move from mere words of advice on how to be happy and the potential practical benefits of happiness, and progress toward examining human happiness more precisely, to pursue it more prudently, and to achieve it more reliably? This author expects to provide empirical research in support of becoming happier through intentional activities. This longitudinal within-subject study will examine the effect of intentional activities on happiness levels, using elements from the 14 Fundamentals Program. Research on the fundamentals has focused on an austere hypothesis: If the average person can adjust their actions, thinking patterns, and daily life-styles to better imitate the well-established characteristics of happier individuals, they too will become happier people. This investigation is expected to support that hypothesis.
This randomized controlled trial will consist of fifty college students. The participants will be asked to consent to participate in the trial without knowing if they will receive the treatment. Participants will be divided into two groups.
Group One will receive complete information and instruction in the 14 Fundamentals Program. Subjects in the control group, Group Two, will be specifically told on several occasions that their usual daily activities will help them become much happier people. Thus, both groups will be given an equally high anticipation of reaching greater happiness.
After the instruction period, the Group One will be required to apply their program on a daily basis for a period of three months, keeping nightly records each evening before retiring on (a) what items they had tried, (b) how successful they felt they had been on the items, and (c) any noticeable effects the program was generating. However, at the end of the required three months, subjects will be encouraged to continue applying the program.
The within-group design will involve pretesting of subject happiness levels (for use in covariate analysis) to control for initial differences. The measurement of happiness in the present study will be an instrument based on the best validated procedure used in the past, that of Wessman & Ricks, 1966, called the happiness measures. The procedure consists of an 11-point happiness scale (with descriptive phrases at each of the points) measuring the subject’s perceived quality of his general happiness, along with the subject’s estimate of the percentage of time generally spent in happy, unhappy, and neutral moods (a quantitative measure of happiness). The scale score, the happy and unhappy percentage estimates, and a combination score (combining the scale score and the happy percentage estimate in equal weights) will be used as criteria. To date, the happiness measures have been administered over 1,500 times in a number of studies, and findings show (a) good test-retest reliability (e.g., for the combination score: .86 over a 2-week interval; .67 over a 4-month interval, p <.01); (b) significant validity coefficients with measures of personality characteristics, long associated with happiness, contained in some 15 popularly used inventories; (c) nonsignificant correlations with measures of “social desirability” bias (the validity scale of the Minnesota Counseling Inventory, the Response Bias scale of the Comrey Personality Scales, and the Lie scale of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire); and most importantly, (d) significant validity coefficients with measures of mood like the Depression Adjective Check List, the Profile of Mood States, and the Multiple Adjective Affective Check List and with emotional morale subscales of the Comrey Personality Scales, the Minnesota Counseling Inventory, and the 16 Factor Personality Questionnaire. A full report on the happiness measures and their characteristics is attached. Compared to alternatives, they appear to be the best validated, most thoroughly tested measures of happiness and thus were selected as the criterion for this study (Fordyce, 1977).
First, a baseline will be established by pretesting with Happiness Measures to assess the current “happiness status” for each of your students or clients.
Second, Group One will be instructed to read the literature on the Fourteen Fundamentals (see Appendix) and follow the instructions.
Essentially, the experimental procedure is exposure to the material. Adherence to it is left to the individual. This take-it-or-leave-it strategy, experimentally speaking, provides several advantages: It makes the experimental manipulation as unobtrusive as possible; it provides the opportunity to determine, indirectly, the natural appeal of the information (as indicated by the percentage of individuals who might choose to consider and apply the information when no other incentive than potential happiness improvement was offered); and it gives the chance to find out how people would use such information when it is presented in a suggested, rather than required manner (a manner more typical of most counseling settings, where prescriptions are generally more recommendatory than mandatory).
To control for initial group differences in happiness levels, an analysis of covariance statistical treatment of pre- and posttest measures will be conducted.
At the end of three months, a retest with the Happiness Measures will be used to assess and document any happiness progress.
Computer analysis of the data is expected to show that the happiness program significantly increases the measured happiness levels of the subjects. A 2 x 2 analysis of variance comparing experimental versus control subjects will be done for each of the happiness measures. The results are expected to show significant in all analyses concerning treatment effects. It is expected that the analyses will be nonsignificant for presensitization effects, indicating that pretesting with the happiness measures had no systematic biasing effect on posttest responses. Again, the results are predicted to show significant differences between groups on each of the happiness measures. A priori analysis will then be conducted among the adjusted treatment means to determine the relative effectiveness of each experimental program to the control group. Comparisons among the individual treatment means will also be conducted using the unadjusted data from all subjects (N = 50); however, these results may only suggestive because there might be an initial equality of happiness levels among the groups. (There might be grounds for such an assumption because a randomly selected half of each group were pretested and the means of those random subsamples might not differ appreciably).
- Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unraveling the mystery of health. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Argyle, M. (1999). Causes and correlates of happiness. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 353–373). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Aristotle. (1999). Nicomachean ethics (2nd ed.). T. Irwin (Tr.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
- Aspinwall, L. G. (1998). Rethinking the role of positive affect in self-regulation. Motivation and Emotion, 22, 1–32.
- Braungart, J. M., Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., & Fulker, D. W. (1992). Genetic influence on testerrated infant temperament as assessed by Bayley’s Infant Behavior Record: Nonadoptive and adoptive siblings and twins. Developmental Psychology, 28, 40–47.
- Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Chicago: Rand McNally.
- Camus, A. (1955). The myth of Sisyphus and other essays. J. O’Brien (Tr.). New York, NY: Knopf. (Original work published 1942)
- Camus, A. (1988). The stranger. M. Ward (Tr.). New York, NY: Knopf. (Original work published 1942)
- Compton, W. C., & Hoffman, E. (2013). Positive psychology: the science of happiness and flourishing (Second ed.). Australia: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Wong, M. M. (1991). The situational and personal correlates of happiness: A cross-national comparison. In F. Strack, M. Argyle, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Subjective well-being: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 193–212). Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.
- Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804–813.
- Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 542–575.
- Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276–302.
- Dillon, K. M., Minchoff, B., & Baker, K. H. (1985). Positive emotional states and enhancement of the immune system. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 15, 13–18.
- Estrada, C., Isen, A. M., & Young, M. J. (1994). Positive affect influences creative problem solving and reported source of practice satisfaction in physicians. Motivation and Emotion, 18, 285–299.
- Fordyce, M. W., 1972. Happiness, its daily variation and its relation to values. (Doctoral dissertation, United States International University, 1972). Dissertation Abstracts International, 33, 1266B. (University Microfilms No. 72-23,491)
- Fordyce, M. W. (1977). Development of a program to increase personal happiness. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 24(6), 511-521. doi:10.1037/0022-0184.108.40.2061
- Fordyce, M. W. (1981). The psychology of happiness: Fourteen fundamentals. Fort Myers, Fla.: Cypress Lake Media, 1981. (Also available from the author, Edison Community College, Fort Myers, Fla. 33907.)
- Fordyce, M. W. (1983). A program to increase happiness: Further studies. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 30(4), 483-498. doi:10.1037/0022-0220.127.116.113
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218–226.
- Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13, 172–175.
- Gilbert, D. (2007). Stumbling on happiness. New York, NY: Knopf.
- Hap. (n.d.) Retrieved April 4, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hap
- Harker, L., & Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotions in women’s college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 112–124.
- Heffernan, G. (2014). The phenomenon happiness: Prolegomena to a phenomenological description. The Humanistic Psychologist, 42(3), 249-267. doi:10.1080/08873267.2014.929873
- Husserl, E. (1970). The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology: An introduction to phenomenological philosophy. D. Carr (Tr.). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. (Original work published 1936)
- Isen, A. M. (1970). Success, failure, attention and reaction to others: The warm glow of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 15, 294–301.
- Isles, A. R. (2015). Neural and behavioral epigenetics; what it is, and what is hype. Genes, Brain & Behavior, 14(1), 64-72. doi:10.1111/gbb.12184
- Jahoda, M. (1958). Current concepts of positive mental health. New York: Basic Books.
- Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1996). Further examining the American dream: Differential correlates of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 280–287.
- Keltner, D., & Bonanno, G. A. (1997). A study of laughter and dissociation: Distinct correlates of laughter and smiling during bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 687–702.
- Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7, 186–189.
- Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2004). Is happiness a strength?: An examination of the benefits and costs of frequent positive affect. Manuscript submitted for publication.
- Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review Of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131. doi:10.1037/1089-2618.104.22.168
- Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C., & Sheldon, K. M. (2004). [Pursuing sustained happiness through random acts of kindness and counting one’s blessings. Tests of two six-week interventions]. Unpublished raw data.
- Marks, G. N., & Fleming, N. (1999). Influences and consequences of well-being among Australian young people: 1980–1995. Social Indicators Research, 46, 301–323.
- Okun, M. A., Stock, W. A., Haring, M. J., & Witter, R. A. (1984). The social activity/subjective wellbeing relation: A quantitative synthesis. Research on Aging, 6, 45–65.
- Ostir, G. V., Markides, K. S., Black, S. A., & Goodwin, J. S. (2000). Emotional well-being predicts subsequent functional independence and survival. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 48, 473–478.
- Seligman, M. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5
- Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). Achieving Sustainable Gains in Happiness: Change Your Actions, not Your Circumstances*. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 7(1), 55-86. doi:10.1007/s10902-005-0868-8
- Staw, B. M., Sutton, R. I., & Pelled, L. H. (1995). Employee positive emotion and favorable outcomes at the workplace. Organization Science, 5, 51–71.
- Steger, M. (2009). Meaning in Life. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed., pp.679–688). New York: Oxford University Press.
- Stone, A. A., Neale, J. M., Cox, D. S., Napoli, A., Vadlimarsdottir, V., & Kennedy-Moore, E. (1994). Daily events are associated with a secretory immune response to an oral antigen in men. Health Psychology, 13, 440–446.
- Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193–210.
- Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J., Wilcox, K. J., Segal, N. L., & Rich, S. (1988). Personality similarity in twins reared apart and together. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1031–1039.
- Warner, R., & Vroman, K. (2011). Happiness Inducing Behaviors in Everyday Life: An Empirical Assessment of ‘The How of Happiness’. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 12(6), 1063-1082. doi:10.1007/s10902-010-9245-3
- Watzlawick, P. (1984). The situation is hopeless, but not serious [The pursuit of unhappiness]. New York, NY: Norton. (Original work published 1983)
- Wessman, A. E., & Ricks, D. F. (1966). Moods and personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
- Williams, S., & Shiaw, W. T. (1999). Mood and organizational citizenship behavior: The effects of positive affect on employee organizational citizenship behavior intentions. Journal of Psychology, 133, 656–668.
Fourteen Fundamentals by Michael W. Fordyce
Fundamental One: Be More Active and Keep Busy
Fundamental one, “be more active and keep busy,” is based on numerous studies which indicate that happy people are actively involved with living. According to research, happy persons fill their life with activity, and more importantly, they spend more time doing things they find fun and enjoyable than do most others. Conceptually, this fundamental emphasizes the basic idea that the active life seems to produce more happiness than the passive life. It continues, then, to contrast the active, full, enjoyable life of happy with the pressured, harried life of some unhappy people or the boring, inactive life of others. The happy life-style is explained with terms such as “involvement, “investment,” and “energy.” Five themes of happiness-producing activities are 1) enjoyable activities produce more happiness than non-enjoyable ones; 2) exciting, physically active activities appear to generate more enjoyment than more sedate, tranquil pleasures; 3) new or novel experiences tend to be more happiness-producing than familiar ones; 4) social activities are more happiness-producing than solitary ones; 5) meaningful pursuits produce more satisfaction than trivial entertainments. Participants are instructed to develop a listing of such activities fitting these categories, and encouraged to include more of them in their weekly routine. Analysis of such lists also proves insightful, as participants discover that the majority of “activities that really make them happy” are both free (or very low cost) economically, as well as available to them virtually any time they might wish. Generally, this “fundamental” is framed in the basic principle that one’s happiness in life, to a fair degree, appears to be directly contingent on the amount of time one spends in enjoyable, fun activity.
Fundamental Two: Spend More Time Socializing
One of the stronger threads woven through the accumulated research in happiness and life-satisfaction is the importance social connectivity plays in personal happiness. Indeed, the majority of studies have found a rewarding social life to be the most important single factor contributing to happiness. Much of the impact of an individual’s social life on happiness involves his or her closest, most intimate relationships. Studies in this area show that happy people display a high degree of social participation and activity — both on a formal level (in organizations, clubs, associations, etc.) and on an informal level (with friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives, etc.) — and that such social interaction contributes strong feelings of satisfaction, support, and belongingness that adds to their overall sense of happiness. Instruction here is straightforward. It is suggested that participants review the importance socializing plays in their own happiness. Suggestions as to how such might be increased are joining clubs, involvement in community activity, arranging get-togethers, accepting invitations, etc
Fundamental Three: Be Productive at Meaningful Work
Happiness and life-satisfaction has a long research history of association with meaningful work and productive activity. An enormous amount of social science research shows how satisfying employment is knotted to life-satisfaction, and, more specifically, how much interest and satisfaction the happiest people seem to derive from their work. Educationally, the point here is simple: since most working people in industrialized countries spend about 80% of their waking hours working throughout their lives, the choice of a career — in terms of life-long happiness — is critical. We emphasize to younger students, especially, that their career selection is one of the most significant happiness choices they’ll ever make. Productivity is presented as a double-edged sword: happiness is generally associated with periods of productivity, while, conversely, even brief periods of non-productivity and laxing on responsibilities can lead to depression. Participants are instructed to consistently persevere toward their commitments and goals. Meaning, on the other hand, has been considered by the great minds throughout history as critical to happiness – and happiness research has confirmed this. Typically, happy people report viewing most of their activities as significant, gratifying, and important. They see themselves as making a social contribution, progressing toward important goals, and developing themselves on a personal level. The more fortunate among happy people find such meaning in their career. Others, who may not find their employment (or lack of it) rewarding, find meaning in charity or community service. Participants are encouraged to crystalize their own values and analyze the role of meaning in their own lives.
Fundamental Four: Get Better Organized
Research on happier individuals has often indicated that they are well-organized, non-procrastinating, efficient, and planful. Such organization displays itself not only in their daily approach to life, but also in their long-terms plans and sense of direction in life. Happy people seem to know where they want to go in life and they appear to have the organizational skills to help them get there. Participants are instructed to develop or refine their long-term goals in life, as well as practice time management to eliminate procrastination and more efficiently organize their daily routine.
Fundamental Five: Stop Worrying
One of the major findings regarding happy individuals is that they worry a lot less than most people do. Research refers to worry as the “arch-enemy of happiness,” since it is the most antithetical thing the average person does to undermine his or her happiness. Participants are reminded of the concept of time as it applies to happiness. As in an earlier discussion (that “one’s happiness is proportional to the amount of time one spends in enjoyable activity”), now the message is that one’s happiness is inversely proportional to the amount of time one spends dwelling on negative thoughts. As everyday worry is the most common sort of negative thought that occupies most people’s mind, participants are instructed to list their worries on a daily basis. After several weeks, analysis of individual worry-patterns usually proves to most participants that: a) most worries never come true, and b) most worries are far beyond a person’s ability to control in the first place. Such exercises tend to prove to most students the futility of their worried thoughts. Participants are encouraged to substitute negative thoughts with positive thoughts (see Fundamental Seven) and to monitor thoughts to control worried ideation. Participants are instructed to distinguish between worry and planning to strike a balance between adequate planning and minimal worrying that provides both maximum success in living and a minimum of unpleasant thought and mental duress.
Fundamental Six: Lower Expectations and Aspirations
This lesson deals with the role in which day-to-day expectations, as well as long-term ambitions and successes, play in happiness. It is founded on one of the most basic principles of psychology (which has been confirmed in the literature on happiness): how pleased we are with life is not merely determined by what happens to us — it is also determined by what we expect to happen to us. Following the research, we focus students’ attention to four specific, cognitive points which exemplify how expectations, aspirations, and success effect happiness: 1. Don’t set yourself up for disappointments. Here, we emphasize the most basic point of “expectation theory”: high expectations are rarely met and usually lead to disappointment — low expectations typically lead to more pleasant outcomes than anticipated outcomes. Cumulatively, such disappointments and pleasantries combine to effect one’s overall assessment of their happiness. Rather than perfectionism, a modest expectation of everyday events seems to be more aligned with happiness. 2. Industrialized cultures overrate the role success plays in happiness. Although success appears to make a contribution to overall happiness, the research indicates that it’s impact — and long-lasting effect — is relatively minor (particularly when compared to other, more potent influences on happiness, such as the quality of one’s family and social life). Aspiration-based strategies for happiness, therefore, may not have as strong a pay-off as most of us have been led to believe. 3. Happiness, in most modern cultures, is mistakenly viewed as the result of a successful life — and because “success” is something which is generally attained late in life (and only after many years of self-denial and hard work) — most individuals unwittingly see happiness as something one must postpone and wait for until success finally comes. Happy people don’t fall into this cultural trap. They aren’t waiting to be happy. They see that “happiness is a way to travel, not a place to arrive.” We suggest here, as we do often in the “fundamentals,” that the secret of a happier life generally lies in the present, not in an uncertain, postponed future. 4. Happy people get what they want, because they want what they can get! Evidence indicates that happier people tend to select life-goals that are within their ability to attain, thus filling their lives with success after success. Unhappy people desperately set their sights on next to impossible ambitions, and experience their lives as a series of failures. Happiness appears more aligned with success at a series of more attainable goals than it is in failure reaching for the stars.
Fundamental Seven: Develop Positive, Optimistic Thinking
Perhaps the most characteristic trait of happy individuals reported in the research is optimism and positive thinking. Because of this, the fourteen fundamentals devote a good deal of time providing a theoretical framework to help students understand the relationship between optimistic, positive perceptual sets and happiness. We begin, once again, with a reprise of our previous discussions regarding mental time and happiness which sees one’s happiness as greatly determined by what thoughts preoccupy one’s mind throughout the day — the more pleasant such thoughts the happier one’s emotion will be. Optimism contributes to this process in several important ways. 1. Optimism is a positive interpretation of events. Here the lesson is that virtually any situation in life is amenable to a positive view. To paraphrase from many researchers in the field, “it’s not what you have — it’s how you view what you have that counts for happiness.” Participants are invited to interpret each of their own real life events in their “most positive” and “most negative” light to help them appreciate the emotional consequences of each. 2. Optimism is a perceptual set which focuses one’s environmental attention. As basic psychology suggests, “one sees what one is looking for.” It is posited that there is enough both good and bad happening in the world to constantly preoccupy one’s mind with either. If one is looking for negative things in life, one can find plenty to concentrate on. The same is true of happy things. What one looks for, then, has a lot to do with how one perceives their world, and consequently how happy one feels about it. 3. Optimism is a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” If one expects things to work out happily, the behavior one emits actually heightens the probability that such will be so. 4. Ultimately, optimism is a belief that “I will be happy no matter what happens.” This philosophical idea arms students with the potential that interpretation can be stronger than reality. No matter what the circumstance, one’s emotions need not be dictated by the situation. One is always (potentially) free to choose how happily he or she will feel. A distinction is also drawn between optimism and expectations in terms of their specificity. Expectations are quite specific, e.g., “I’ve got to get that promotion, or I’ll never be happy,” whereas optimism is very general, “Whatever happens is for the best.” Various exercises, such as thought substitution (replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts), creating a list of one’s positive blessings in life, practicing positive interpretations of everyday events, are recommended.
Fundamental Eight: Be Present-Oriented
Long recognized as a major characteristic of self-actualization, research has found that happy individuals are quite “present-oriented,” i.e., they more fully function in the present and seem to squeeze a maximum of enjoyment from that which each day affords. Happiness is far more available in the “here and now” than it is in the “there or then.” Happy people seem to enjoy their days more than the unhappy, primarily because their mental attention is not colored with either regrets and rumination about the past or frets and worries about the future. Emphasize the value of “savoring the moment” and enjoying each day fully. Meditational and focusing techniques are ways to keenly appreciate the simple pleasures each moment of life.
Fundamental Nine: Work on a Healthy Personality
Despite the occasional social critic who maintains that any person who is happy in today’s society must be “insane,” the findings in this field (using virtually every standard clinical test and instrument available) have found that happy individuals are extremely mentally healthy and significantly freer of psychological complaints and symptomology than the general populace. The following basic mental health principles will help participants get started in the right direction: like yourself, accept yourself, know yourself, and help yourself. “Like yourself” deals with one of the most important elements of happy personality, a positive self-concept. Participants are instructed to analyze their own self-views and sense how this affects their happiness in terms of mental mood. “Accept yourself” focuses on how one deals with personal shortcomings and inadequacies — a major block for most in “liking themselves.” Participants are instructed that acceptance of shortcomings is more typical of the happy than is the self-criticism and self-blaming of the unhappy. “You don’t have to be perfect to like yourself” is this lesson. “Know yourself” directs the student to the value of good self-insight and self-understanding. It is explained that good decisions contribute to a happier life, yet to make good decisions one needs to know themselves well. Self-analyses are suggested as avenues toward greater self-knowledge. “Help yourself” refers again to the self-sufficient skills and abilities happy people have that enable them to freely succeed in life.
Fundamental Ten: Develop an Outgoing Social Personality
Other than optimism, the most highly reported personality trait of happy people is extroversion. Thus, largely because happiness appears greater for those who enjoy an active social life, this educational program focuses participants on the value of becoming a more outgoing, social person, both cognitively and behaviorally. Participants are encouraged to simply make an effort to smile more, acknowledge others, and initiate conversation, which might widen their social contacts.
Fundamental Eleven: Be Yourself
Personality research on happy individuals indicates that they tend to be themselves. Terms like “natural,” “spontaneous,” “authentic,” “sincere,” “comfortable,” “honest,” “expressive,” “candid,” “open,” “real,” and so on, often appear in the literature. For participants, the advantage of being oneself is framed two ways. First, emotionally. One basic advantage in being oneself is the sheer comfort and ease it brings to everyday living. Secondly, there is the tactical advantage. When one expresses himself or herself honestly, events tend to work-out, more often than not, in one’s favor. This is especially true in finding love and friendship. To find those who may like you “just the way you are,” you have to portray yourself “just the way you are” to begin with.
Fundamental Twelve: Eliminate Negative Feelings and Problems
This “fundamental” is introduced as a caveat to the entire happiness course. Most of the educational material presented in the course is aimed at an audience free of significant psychological difficulties. However, it is recognized that many persons exposed to these happiness skills suffer from a variety of diagnosable mental disorders which may limit, if not sabotage, their efforts with the program. Data suggests that as many as a quarter or more of the U.S. population has a major problem with mood, anxiety, substance abuse, or other common disorders. Thus this “fundamental” presents an abbreviated discussion of the basic symptoms and causes of mental distress, some basic ways of dealing with emotional upheaval and everyday pressures, and — especially for those who recognize pervasive problems in their lives — the importance of seeking professional help. It is not that unhappy people cannot profit from an education in happiness (for in several of our studies we have found that such individuals are often more likely than others to show positive growth). Nor is the education provided in the “fundamentals” all that different from the kinds of advice most therapists might provide their clients (since most of the techniques taught are derivatives of standard clinical homework assignments). It is, rather, that a number of indiviuals in any educational setting are too deeply symptomatic to begin working with their happiness when their unhappiness is so encumbering. For these, in-depth, personal help is needed. Therefore, we try, both through our lecture content and a sensivity to overtly troubled participants in our classes, to guide them to it.
Fundamental Thirteen: Close Relationships Are Number 1
International polls have traditionally shown the marriage and family ties provide the greatest happiness of all studied factors, irrespective of income or social level — and decades of studies on happiness confirm the same. Put simply for our students: “close relationships are the number one source of happiness.” Education here is mostly cognitively oriented. Materials stress the critical importance of close friendship, family, and romantic ties to overall happiness. Lectures particularly focus on marital and romantic relationships (as these have consistently demonstrated the strongest impact on happiness in the literature) by presenting the characteristics of healthy love-relationships as delineated by formost authorities in couple-counseling and marital-relations — and contrasting them to the characteristics of neurotic, unhealthy relationships.
Fundamental Fourteen: Value Happiness
The final “fundamental” deals with where one places “happiness” in their overall priorities. Participants are instructed that the happiest people appear to place a stronger value on happiness, subjective well-being, and similar concepts than do others. Indeed, many happy people place happiness as their most important concern in life, while unhappier people tend to discount happiness. Additionally, happy people appear to have thought a great deal about their happiness, as witnessed by their ability to provide more adequate definitions of happiness, having a keener intuition regarding the basic sources of happiness, and a greater sensitivity to, and appreciation of, happy emotion in their lives. The indication here is that the achievement of happiness may well be connected to how much one wishes to be happy and how important one views it to be.
As our education about happiness reaches conclusion, the attainment of happiness is pictured as an achievable goal — not unlike any goal one might set for oneself. And like any goal in life, the person having the best chance achieving it is the one who thinks about and analyzes their goal in detail, the one who works toward it the hardest, and especially, the one who has the most current information as to how to go about it. We believe our education provides the information. The analysis and effort is left to the student.