What is Happiness Training?
“Happiness is not a spectator sport” said the late Chris Peterson. The Dalai Lama agrees “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” Neuroscience supports both the spiritual leader and the positive psychologist. Studies on the brains of Tibetan monks have shown that a regular practice of mindfulness increases the capacity for happiness. “Meditation produces changes in brain activation associated with reductions in negative affect and increases in positive affect.” (Davidson et al, 2003)
Positive psychology can tell us what happiness is but what takes it out of the lab and into real life are positive psychology interventions (PPIs), the evidence-based practices that develop resilience and well-being. It is the A in the MAPP qualification (Masters in Applied Positive Psychology) that really counts. If you or your clients want to grow happiness, the key is to go beyond satisfying an intellectual curiosity, it is the practice of PPIs that makes a habit out of happiness. As Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, puts it “neurons that fire together wire together”.
If the question is what does it take to be happier? The answer is to leave the spectator stand, get onto the pitch and into training. Training is about applying a serious intention to well-being. Training the mind is what Buddhist monks are doing through their daily practice of mindfulness. Training the mind for greater happiness involves the practice of PPIs such as savouring, gratitude and optimism. The word ‘training’ itself is about developing a particular skill or type of behaviour, which you can accomplish through a bit of education and a lot of practice.
So if the question you’re asking is what does it mean to be happy? It means developing a practice that goes beyond reading books or studying the research to really live it, experiment with it and train yourself in the practices that the science has shown to grow well-being. One idea for a daily practice inspired by the 5-a-day of fruit & veg for physical health is to use the 5 ways to well-being. So everyday find a way to connect (with others), learn (something new), be (physically) active, notice what’s good (savouring) and give something (kindness & altruism). These small steps soon add up so that with repetition, as Rick Hanson puts it “passing neural states become lasting neural traits.”
The majority of positive psychology interventions are practices that focus on growing positives rather than shrinking negatives. The tools are aimed at creating mental health. The research shows that these practices not only raise well-being, they can also help your recovery from depression. They act as a natural anti-depressant without chemical side-effects for those with sub-clinical depression and can aid the recovery of people in the mild-to-moderate stages of a clinical depression.
For coaches, therapists and health professionals one of our roles is to take these scientifically-grounded techniques off campus and into communities where they can add to the tonnage of happiness on the planet. That begins with your own personal practice so that you get to walk your talk and can ‘describe and prescribe’ PPIs from a place of authenticity.
The Happiness Training Programme: Foundations of Positive Psychology is an 8-week course with leading trainers Miriam Akhtar & Dr Chris Johnstone. This course is for both personal well-being and coaches, therapists and practitioners who want to experience the positive psychology tools they can use with their clients. Starts 23rd September until 11th November.