Positive Psychology Primer
What is happiness?
Happiness is the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.
Five Elements of Well-Being
Each of these five elements will be discussed in our next lesson.
Happiness is a thing and well-being is a construct. The five elements of well-being are positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.
Positive Emotion includes the feelings of joy, excitement, contentment, hope and warmth. There may be positive emotions relating to the past, present or future.
Engagement denotes deep involvement in a task or activity. One does not experience the passing of time. One experiences flow in sports, music and singing but one may also experience it in work, reading a book or in a good conversation.
We feel happy when we are among family and friends. The quality and depth of relationships in one’s life make it rich.
It’s connecting to something larger than life.
One strives for achievements in life as a source of happiness.
Each of these elements contributes to well-being. The good news is that each one of the above may be cultivated and developed to enhance level of well-being.
In this lesson, let us consider the happiness equation:
H = S + C + V
where H represents the enduring level of happiness, S is the set range, C is the circumstances of life and V represents the variables under our voluntary control.
ENDURING LEVEL OF HAPPINESS: H
The enduring level of happiness is different from momentary happiness. Momentary level of happiness may change with small burst of positive feelings.
SET RANGE: S
Almost 50% of our inherent happiness level is genetic. This means that we can only be as happy as our parents or grandparents. That is the set range of happiness.
Furthermore, there are two barriers to becoming happier:
The Happiness Thermostat:
Whether good fortune comes our way or misfortune strikes, the built-in happiness thermostat reverts us to our personal set range.
The Hedonic Treadmill:
This causes you to adapt to good things rapidly. As you accumulate material possessions and accomplishments, your expectations rise.
It’s possible, but sometimes impractical, to bring about increase in happiness level by changing life circumstances. Only 10% of our happiness depends on the circumstances of life.
Let us consider how some circumstances impact happiness:
Wealth is necessary for life satisfaction but, beyond a certain level, added wealth brings no further life satisfaction. People who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their life.
Married people are happier than unmarried people.
Objective health is barely related to happiness; what matters is our subjective perception of how healthy we are. Moderate ill health does not lead to unhappiness but severe illness does.
Education, Climate, Race, and Gender:
None of them much matters for happiness.
Religious people are somewhat more happier and more satisfied with life than nonreligious people.
Place of stay:
To be happier, live in a wealthy democracy, not in an impoverished dictatorship.
FACTORS UNDER VOLUNTARY CONTROL: V
The good news is that 40% of happiness depends on factors under our voluntary control. If you decide to change them, and make the required efforts in the direction, your level of happiness is likely to increase lastingly.
Positive emotion - satisfaction about the past, optimism about the future and happiness in the present - may be enhanced with real effort. We will learn about happiness activities to reach upper levels of happiness in a subsequent chapter.
One thing I can say for sure – flow brings real happiness!
Flow is a state of joy, creativity and total involvement, in which problems seem to disappear and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is what we feel when we are fully alive, involved with what we do, and in harmony with the environment around us. It is something that happens most easily when we sing, dance, do sports – but it can happen when we work, read a good book, or have a good conversation.
Engagement, or flow, is one of the strongest pillars around which Positive Psychology is built. Here, one is fully in the present, immersed in something worthwhile. For an auto-telic person, the experience becomes its own reward.
We each have the potential to experience flow, whether at work, at play or in our relationships.
As we know by now, 50% of happiness is in our genes, 10% depends on the circumstances of life and the rest 40% can be cultivated by us by taking up activities, intentionally and voluntarily, that bring joy and happiness.
These intentional activities we call Happiness Activities.
You can find activities that fit your interests, your values and your needs.
Let us classify and list a few activities to make it clear:
Everyone needs to spare time regularly for at least one activity to take care of the body, mind and soul. It may be aerobics, yoga, meditation, walking, or any of the physical exercises.
Stress is the major concern in modern life. One needs to learn how to cope with stress, trauma, and hardships of life.
Finding flow and living in the present is the surest path to authentic happiness. You can choose a happiness activity that helps you enhance flow experience.
You can enrich your life by developing positive relationships and by broadening social connections.
Committing to your goals and a committed goal pursuit leads to accomplishments, thus enhancing your happiness quotient.
You may want to enhance your positive emotions about the past by practicing gratitude or your positive emotions about the future by practicing optimism.
We will be taking up some proven happiness activities from each of these sections in our subsequent lessons.
(I will be away for about a month. So, the next lesson may appear after some gap. Be happy!)
Jagat Singh Bisht
Happiness & Well-Being