Research Paper By Dinko Barbalic
(Transformational Coach, UNITED STATES)
Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. Aristotle
One of the main questions ever is what is happiness’.
Happiness intended as the search for well being and good life is probably the most enduring pursuit throughout the entire history of humanity. The answers, as obvious as they may seem, are not that simple and homogeneous and they have been extraordinarily diverse: some people have sought love and the joys of intimate relationships; others have pursued sensual pleasure. Some have worked toward the fulfilment of their potentials, while others have searched for the peace of mindfulness and spirituality. In spite of the importance of this search, the question of how to define and how to achieve these goals remains one of the most persistent questions even today. Whether we pursue a career, success, love, spirituality, and wealth or something else is because we believe that they will make us happy and increase our well-being and joy for life.
As I embarked on the endeavour of this paper, I kept discovering many fascinating things. One of the main things is that happiness is not just a knock of good fortune, something we acquire or find. It is an active and ongoing process of realization of one’s true nature and of fulfilling one’s virtues, which means living as one is inherently intended to live. Happiness is a state we are intended to create. One of the first steps toward creating happiness involves recognising that our yearning to increase happiness and live a happy life is not just wishful thinking. It is a vitally important goal that we all have the ability to achieve.
Let’s start looking into what happiness is, what its benefits are and how to achieve it.
What is happiness?
Happiness is the perfection of human nature. Since man is a rational animal, human happiness depends on the exercise of his reason. Aristotle
What makes it so difficult to answer is its subjectivity. Happiness means different things to different people and different fields as well.
To behaviourists, happiness is a mix of emotions we experience when we do something good. To neurologists, happiness is the experience of the flow of hormones released in the brain as a reward for behaviour. To believers of several religions, happiness indicates the presence of God.
So many thinkers in human history, from Plato, Aristotle, the Dalai Lama and many others, all have agreed with the idea that the purpose of our life is to find happiness. Happiness gives meaning to our life. People rate it as more important than any other desirable personal outcomes such as wealth, beauty or fame. The reason so many people devoted their life to it is that it is fundamental to our well-being yet is not easy to achieve. There is no straight and simple path to happiness. It requires a clear vision of what it is, commitment to take action and persistence.
If we were to try to explain it in simple words we might say that happiness is that elusive state of mind or a state of well-being that comprises living a good life with a sense of meaning, joy and deep contentment. This state of mind ought to be trained and felt. Happiness is like love or empathy, it cannot be pursued; it must ensue from our thoughts and actions. This is why it doesn’t have a universal, right and wrong definition; it is highly subjective.
In psychology the research falls into two traditions, hedonistic and eudaimonic. The first views happiness as the opposite of suffering and misery. The hedonist’s purpose of life is to find happiness (happiness as a destination). For the eudaimonic, the focus is on living life in a full and satisfying way (happiness as a journey). It defines happiness as the pursuit of becoming a better person and they do this by challenging themselves intellectually or by engaging in activities that make them spiritually richer people. Hedonists see happiness as derived externally while eudaimonic expresses the idea that happiness comes from within.
As Viktor Frankl put it
One must have a reason to be happy.
In fact, happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next in the search of pleasure trying to keep this state always high. This may generate an illusion of happiness but not a lasting one. The happiness I want to talk about is a stable and persistent one that remains, despite life’s ups and downs and fluctuations of mood.
Happiness comes from the constant, daily practice of positive thinking and doing. It may also include periods of considerable discomfort and distress but we accept it as a necessary part of our life journey.
What determines happiness?
What we believe would make a huge difference in our lives actually, makes only a small difference, while we overlook the true sources of personal happiness and well-being, Sonia Lyubomirsky.
I suspect that we are being socially conditioned to believe that the wrong things will bring us lasting well-being. Modern society seems almost to orders to be happy but scientific evidence shows that we are often off base about what actually brings us happiness instead of momentary pleasure. As a result, we sometimes work to make things happen that don’t actually make us happy. The most common error is that we assume that positive events, be they career, money, physical appearance, fame or victories by our sports teams, will provide much more happiness than they really do which keeps people striving for more. They might be important but only to a certain extent: money buys freedom from worry about the basics in life – food, shelter, education and health. When the basics are met, the excess of money doesn’t provide a permanent increase in happiness. Why is it so hard for us to believe that money doesn’t make us happy? Because the truth is that money does make us happy. But our misunderstanding is that we think it will bring us a lot of happiness for a long time, and it brings a little happiness for a short time. Meanwhile, we end up ignoring other more effective routes to lasting happiness. Knowing what is important in our life, knowing our life purpose, we can tailor our activities, and the time and energy we want to spend on each of them.
An interesting research study has shown that about 50 per cent of happiness is determined by genes (out of our control), about 10 per cent is determined by circumstances (somewhat out of our control), and the final 40 per cent is determined by our thoughts, actions, and attitudes (entirely within our control). If this is correct, it means that we have many opportunities to increase or decrease our happiness levels through how we think and what we do in our daily lives.
We tend to assume that circumstances play the biggest role in our happiness, but they play the smallest part (if our most basic needs are met). Most of the times we try to change the circumstances thinking they are the main factor that will bring us happiness but we grossly underestimate the extent to which changing our thoughts and behaviours, can significantly increase our happiness. This is because of the so-called ‘hedonic adaptation’ or becoming rapidly accustomed to physiologic changes, which makes us happier only for a limited time.
All of us could be much happier if we trained ourselves in what we think and do. That would give us a sense of contentment, serenity and well-being. We do not know the limits of human potential to grow and adapt to changing circumstances but happiness makes us realise that change is possible because we can control what we think, feel and do.
What are the benefits of happiness?
Across all domains of life, happiness appears to have huge positive effects. It boosts our energy levels and fortifies our immune system; our engagement with other people and work increases; our productivity and creativity soars. Even life expectancy increases tremendously for those who live happier.
In becoming happier, we also fortify our feelings of self-worth, inner contentment that increases the sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. We come to believe that we are worthy of human beings and success is possible. When we become happier, we benefit not only ourselves but also our partners, families, communities, and even society.
Some may think that living life based on finding happiness self-centred by nature. Not necessarily, it depends on how we do it and what we focus on. Unhappy people are those who are mostly self-centred, socially withdrawn, even antagonistic or destructive.
Happy people are generally found to be more sociable, flexible and resourceful. They are more able to tolerate daily doldrums and turn negative into positive situations. And, most importantly, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.
We know that happiness is the precursor to success, not the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement. Cultivating a positive mindset makes us more motivated, joyful, resilient, creative and productive and drives us forward.
How to achieve happiness
Identifying one’s state of mind is the first step in achieving happiness.
Just like external situations, some are very useful, some neutral and some harmful. The first thing in finding happiness is learning about the positive and negative emotions and behaviours that can be helpful or harmful to us.
Happiness is in the doing, not only in the result. To achieve lasting happiness we must be ready to embark on a longer journey, adopting new daily practices that require a constant effort until they become the new habits. By being focused on enjoying the daily rituals, using them as tools to enter a state of flow, we create a positive mindset and change starts to happen. It’s important to have a meaningful challenge to overcome in order to maintain that flow.
Some of those practices include training ourselves to focus on positive states (love, compassion, kindness) and refuse the negative ones (hatred, jealousy, anger); nurturing and enjoying relationships with family and friends; expressing and receiving gratitude for all we have; genuinely helping others and accepting help; being optimistic and savoring life; making physical exercise a daily habit and connecting with nature; living in the present moment.
All these things require awareness, strong self-discipline, willingness to take risks and be ready to face pitfalls because change takes time and constant action.
In a nutshell, by practising new ways of thinking we set the foundation for inner transformation, which means replacing our negative conditioning with positive conditioning, forming new neural circuits.
We create happiness in how we think, behave and what goals we set every day.
Happiness’ application to coaching
Coaching is about discovery, learning and change. Happiness is also about discovery of one’s state of mind (how negative emotions are harmful and how positive ones are helpful), learning (what is the best strategy to train our mind to have a positive outlook) and change (the way we behave and feel). How can the coaching process help the client to achieve that state of mind and spark change in life?
When a client comes to the session the first thing the coach does is to establish the goal for that session. Once the goal is clear and the agreement can be set, the coach can go further into exploration. Perhaps finding happiness isn’t the explicit goal for the client but this is the bottom line and having the client realise that can be of extreme benefit.
How does this happen? The exploration part is very important and it’s comparable to the first step in the process of finding happiness – explicating how the client sees and feels about his situation. He might feel stuck, demotivated, doubtful, confused etc. These states of mind can translate into feelings of sadness, unhappiness, helplessness, lack of energy and zest for life. The coach, through powerful questioning, can help the client get clarity by breaking down the problem into smaller parts in order to let him find new perspectives. These new perspectives can be a terrific boost of joy for the client and they can make him feel empowered, resourceful and enthusiastic.
Some questions the coach can ask are: How would this (feeling/behaviour/ thought) bring you happiness? How would your life change if you found clarity about this (topic)? What do you think needs to be addressed to reach that (goal)? How else can you see this situation in order to feel empowered? If you were the happy person you want to be, what would you tell yourself about this (topic/goal)? How will your life look like when you find what makes you happy?
These are some of the questions that can challenge the client’s status quo, his beliefs and values. They can make the client feel empowered with more options, hence, increase their positive outlook. By acknowledging the client for this new awareness, the coach encourages them to move forward and create an action plan. This is when the shift happens (the “Aha” moment) and at that moment the client is ready to act. The change is starting and new options are available.
This is when both the client and the coach dance together in a new positive situation, with new clarity, new energy, new motivation. A detailed plan needs to be developed to support this new learning and allow the change to start growing. The first seed of change has been planted and now it’s time to celebrate. The work hasn’t finished yet. Actually, it has just started and now a daily practice has to start.
Change is made up of lots of little steps and we don’t have to know all of them when we start but we have to make that first little one.
In the universe of possibility you set the context and let the life unfold. Ben Zander
Our minds hold incredible power. By learning how to use it we can generate different feelings and behaviours and create an incredible, joyful life. If we know what we want to achieve and why we can change the perception of reality and create the life we want.
A question as simple as: ‘How will this bring me (lasting) happiness’ can be very powerful in helping us successfully conduct all areas of our lives. I realised that it can change our life choices because it shifts the focus from what we are denying ourselves to what we are actively seeking – ultimate happiness. This is an attitude of moving toward instead of moving away, an attitude of embracing life instead of escaping from it. This underlying sense of moving toward happiness can have a very profound effect; it makes us more receptive, more open, to the joy of living.
Coaching has the power to help clients move toward lasting happiness. It helps people change their lives and discover their true potential. Happiness is not a static thing, it is an ongoing process that never ends and hides endeavours and beauty. Pursuing it and nurturing it every day will bring new joy and meaning to their lives. Our minds have the power to make this happen.
Hedonia, eudaimonia, and well-being: an introduction – E.L.Deci, R.M.Ryan
Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness
Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
The Art of Happiness, His Holiness The Dalai Lama and H. C. Cutler
Art of Possibility – R.S.Zander, B.Zander
What is happiness – Josh Clark (www.science.howstuffworks.com