Research Paper By Beth Wallace
(Transitional Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Introduction and Objective
The objective of this paper is to explain the understanding of how happiness is determined in a person and in a society, how it can be developed and nurtured, and how coaching can be an effective form of achieving that state. This paper will explore different cultural and personal searches and misunderstandings of how happiness is achieved and consequently define specifically coaching actions that support the client’s attempt to take action toward happiness.
What is happiness?
The Constitution only grants is the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it for yourself, Benjamin Franklin
Webster defines happiness as
a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.
As little as thirty years ago, happiness and how to measure it were not considered a legitimate field of study by the scientific community. In recent years, more research has been conducted regarding the exploration of happiness. One theory regarding the forms and stages of happiness is that there are three different ways for a person to experience happiness. The first, most basic level of happiness is “pleasure”. By definition, pleasure is
sensual gratification; frivolous amusement.
This would include such gratifications as a warm bath, sexual engagement, a delicious meal. Amusements would include activities such as reading a good book, riding a ferris wheel, laughing with friends. The next level of happiness is “satisfaction”. Satisfaction is achieved from a job well done or achievement accomplished, such as a research paper completed, a raise in salary, a child’s learning to ride a bicycle. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a widely published Hungarian psychologist, discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness which he refers to as “Flow”. He theorizes that in this state people are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”
He goes on to explain the concept of Flow as follows:
Flow is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.1990, p.4)
He identifies a number of different elements involved in achieving flow:
- There are clear goals every step of the way.
- There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
- There is a balance between challenges and skills.
- Action and awareness are merged.
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
- There is no worry of failure.
- Self-consciousness disappears.
- The sense of time becomes distorted.
- The activity becomes an end in itself.
Csikszentmihalyi insists that happiness does not simply happen. He writes
It must be prepared for and cultivated by each person, by setting challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for ones abilities.
A person can be an accomplished pianist. She plays often, she practices daily, she performs from time to time. Occasionally, while giving a performance, she moves into a zone with her playing that feels euphoric, surreal, and she feels as though she is floating with her music. She feels that she is one with the music and the piano. Her playing takes on a deeper level of beauty to her audience, and when she is finished, she feels a deep connectedness with herself, her music, her audience, and her world in general. This feels to some like a oneness with the heavens and the universe. This level of happiness, according to this theory, is known as “joy”. Joy is the ultimate state of happiness, coming from within the person. It encompasses the feelings of peace, serenity, and solidarity.
This is not to conclude that one level is better than another, they simply have different sources and therefore scopes to an individual. The first two, pleasure and satisfaction, rely on experiences and outcomes. The last one, joy, relies on internal awareness which encompasses many levels of self understanding, self acceptance, self forgiveness, and self love. This is achieved by hard work on the part of the individual, as this person is challenged to not only look within, but to also put to rest outside influences and distractions that have blocked his/her journey toward joy. This involves understanding underlying beliefs and being willing to challenge them, as well as observe and understand others’ influences. He must be willing to feel pain necessary to examine these and move through their effects in order to let go of those that are holding him back, as well as feel that he can trust in another to help him move through these changes.
According to research, happiness is fifty percent genetic, ten percent circumstantial, and forty percent up to the individual to determine and find for himself. Happiness is a skill. It is learned and practiced. Research has determined that an individual’s happiness is highly related to his actions. Those who offer compassion and generosity to others are reported to have a greater level of happiness. Our daily decisions and habits have a huge impact upon both our happiness and actual success.
Happiness is a choice about where your single processor brain will devote its finite resources as you process the world. If you scan for the negative first, your brain literally has no resources left over to see the things you are grateful for or the meaning embedded in your work. But if you scan the world for the positive, you start to reap an amazing advantage
says noted psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. She theorizes that happiness, as she and other researchers define it, is comprised of two main components: A cognitive component—that is, how you think about your life, how satisfied you are with your life, and whether you feel that you are progressing towards your life’s goals—and an affective component, which has to do with how often you experience positive and negative emotions. This theory coincides well with Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow theory and his conclusion that
The key to happiness consists in how we invest our psychic energy. When we focus our attention on a consciously chosen goal, our psychic energy literally ‘flows’ in the direction of that goal, resulting in a re-ordering and harmony within consciousness.