The pursuit of happiness

Simply the best programme on happiness !   I’ve been critical of the BBC for apparently ignoring all the good research so far, so well done the BBC for a really balanced programme!

It’s a half hour radio show, not sure how long it will stay available so, to summarise:

It talked a lot to Martin Seligman, who is effectively the father of positive psychology (a couple of whose books are mentioned in resources) and also Felicia Huppert (who is on the Government advisor panel on happiness – hooray, a real expert involved in policy!). 

There were demonstrations of the effectiveness of training in this area, such as provided by Anthony Seldon of Wellington (as a former public schoolboy, I can vouch for the fact that if you can get adolescent boys to take something “touchy feely” like “happiness” seriously, you’re doing something right). 

Incredibly, to me, anyway, they also had evidence from the US army on the use of lessons in “resilience”, showing that the US military can see the value of this.  In fact, they’ve worked out the important point that prevention is better than cure.  They focus on people being psychologically healthy, rather than waiting until they are mentally ill, depressed etc. before trying to “fix” people.  Maybe the UK could benefit from that – in the NHS for a start, and try to focus on keeping people mentally and physically healthy, instead of waiting until they are sick and then reacting to that.

But it didn’t just accept that it is all wonderful, opposite points of view were given, including the very valid point (that I hadn’t really considered) that even if you can help people to be resilient, at job losses for example, should you do that or should they be angry and work for a better system?  Even though, as Martin Seligman pointed out, the evidence is that people are more generous, more empathic and more altruistic when they are happy/optimistic, there still has to be a question about the relative power of positive emotion and justifiable anger as ways to make things better in society in general.

However, that is for the Government to work out.  From your own point of view, it looks like the evidence is increasing that happiness, life purpose or whatever you call it, is a helpful thing to focus on.

As a final point, Seligman was asked for his definition of happiness.  He pointed out that it is more than just – feeling good.

His five points (they are in his books, and I’m glad to say do feature in my points about happiness being important – e.g. in financial planning)

* Positive emotions – life satisfaction, etc. – the usual meaning.

* Engagement – (which is very like Flow – which you can look up in resources)

* Relationships – (which are mentioned in resources, but also in my radio interview earlier this week – which was before the BBC programme, so I didn’t crib what they said!)

* Meaning and purpose – (which comes up as a big feature of Man’s search for meaning in resources)

* Accomplishments – (which includes things like progress towards goals, which is another reason why I don’t think SMART is an adequate goal setting method).

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