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22 Jul, 2009

Coach Me Happy

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coach Plus Articles|Coaching Articles|Executive Coaching Articles

Coaching Me Happy - Coaching Blog

It never fails to amaze me the impact coaching has on people’s lives. We must hear the words ‘life changing’ on a daily basis, and when I think of the miracles it has bought about in so many people’s lives I feel humbled and inspired to be a part of such an amazing process that makes so many people so very happy. And that’s what life is really all about isn’t it? Happiness is the holy grail of human existence. Regardless of circumstances, race, status, religion, or colour, at heart we all want the same thing – to be happy.

A study of Americans ten years ago found that they considered happiness more important to them than money, moral goodness and even going to Heaven, while a more recent English study found that the participants rated happiness as their most important component of Quality of Life, even more important to them than money, health, and sex.

All aspects of happiness, from the chemical study of happiness and where it is located in the brain, to how feeling happy impacts on society and why it is good for us and makes us healthier, have increasingly come under scrutiny in the past couple of decades.

In fact, happiness studies and research, formerly the preserve of philosophers, therapists and gurus, has developed into a bona fide discipline. There are ‘Professors of Happiness’ at top universities, ‘Quality of Life’ Institutes worldwide, and thousands of research papers. Happiness even has its own journal, the Journal of Happiness Studies, and has become a part of many government’s focus – National Happiness Quota rather than GDP. In the UK, for example, the Cabinet Office has held a string of seminars on life satisfaction, and last December the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit published a paper recommending policies that could increase the nation’s happiness, including using quality-of-life indicators when making decisions about health and education (go for the option that leads to greatest life satisfaction), and finding an alternative to Gross Domestic Product as a measure of how well the country is doing, one that measures happiness as well as welfare, education and human rights.

Why is being happy good for you?
Cheerful people are more likely to try new things and challenge themselves, which reinforces positive emotion and leads to success in work, good relationships and strong health, say psychologists. The findings suggest that happiness is not a ‘feelgood’ luxury, but essential to people’s wellbeing.
What is more, happiness can also extend across an entire nation, with people in ‘happy’ nations, such as Nigeria, Denmark and Ireland, being more likely to have pro-democratic attitudes and a keenness to help others.

Happiness increases the ability to earn a higher income
When the link between happiness and success was investigated by a team from the University of California Riverside (led by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky), they found that “happy people tend to earn higher incomes”. Having established the link, they looked for the cause. "Almost always it has been assumed that things that correlate with happiness are the causes of happiness, but it was just the opposite – that those things tend to be caused by happiness," said Professor Ed Diener from the University of Illinois, another author on the paper.

Further studies revealed that having a sunny outlook on life appeared to precede good fortune. "There was strong evidence that happiness leads people to be more sociable and more generous, more productive at work, to make more money, and to have stronger immune systems," said Prof Lyubomirsky.

Happiness is good for health and wellbeing
If you can be positive and generally happy, the benefits can be manifold. "Happy people are more likeable and more sociable. They are also better able to cope with stress and likely to be healthier and live longer." Up to nine years longer, found another study, this one finding that happiness results in better health, and so leads to a longer – and more productive – life. "The happier you were, the lower your cortisol levels during the day," says Professor Jane Wardle, of University College London, UK. Cortisol is a stress hormone and when high levels are present it is linked to conditions such as type II diabetes and hypertension. Low levels mean healthier hearts, and therefore longer lives.

Happiness is infectious
And it’s contagious. Like an influenza outbreak, happiness – and other emotions, such as misery, too – spread through social networks, affecting people through three degrees of separation. For instance, a happy friend of a friend of a friend increases the chances of personal happiness by about 6%, which is interesting when compared to research showing that a $5,000 income bumps up the odds by just 2%, says James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, who led the 2008 study.

"Even people we don’t know and have never met have bigger effect on our mood than substantial increases in income," he says. Happiness spreads best at close distances, they found. A happy next-door neighbour ups the odds of personal happiness by 34%, a sibling who lives within 1 mile (1.6 kilometres) by 14%, and a friend within half a mile by a whopping 42%.

While there might be six degrees of separation between any two people, "there
are three degrees of influence," says Fowler’s colleague Nicholas Christakis, of Boston’s Harvard Medical School, beyond which it runs out of energy, rather like a wave.

"I think that happiness is more likely to spread because it’s an emotion that’s about social cohesion," says Fowler. Visible and contagious happiness might have helped our ancestors maintain social cohesion.

But why coaching for happiness?
Interestingly, coaching has followed a similar path along a similar time span to the study of happiness, going from something considered faintly hippy dippy 20 years ago to steadily gaining credence until it now being acknowledged as being an indispensible tool for helping people get the most out of their lives and circumstances – to become, in fact, happier and more fulfilled people, helping create more wealth and happier communities.

But why should this be so? Surely people are either happy or not happy? Grumps, or sweetness and light? Not so, says Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky.

“Unhappy people”, she says, “can become happier by learning the habits of happy people. Deciding to become happier entails making a choice about which perspective you take and acknowledging that the choice is in your hands." She also argues that "a full 40 percent of the capacity for happiness is within your power to change."

To demonstrate this, Lyubomirsky uses a pie chart divided into three parts. Half of the pie is taken up by genetics, a tiny slice by circumstance, and the rest by you and your willpower. By genetics, Lyubomirsky means a shared, familial temperament, rather than a known set of genes, pointing to many studies that indicate there is a ‘set point’ for happiness that is the inherent "baseline or potential for happiness to which we are bound to return, even after major setbacks or triumphs”.

The second (and tiniest) piece of Lybuomirsky’s pie, is circumstance, which is whether you work in overalls or suits (studies indicate it hardly matters), whether money buys happiness (studies say not), and about class and gender (again pretty irrelevant once you have enough to live on). Basically, study after study show that people’s circumstances in life are generally not the main determinants of their sense of happiness.

Bad things, such as divorce and redundancy, obviously do make people unhappy, and for many years in the case of the loss of a beloved spouse, whereas good turns, like winning the lottery or getting married, cause joy. However, once the initial emotional ‘spike’ fades, the person’s sense of wellbeing returns to where it had been before. More is only more for a while, then it becomes the status quo, which is why wealthy people are rarely happier than those who simply have enough.

Happiness is supremely important to us, yet we can’t find it because we seek it in the wrong places and in the wrong ways – people tend to look to material fulfillment, for example (retail therapy, anyone?), self medicate, or blame others for their state of mind, instead of looking internally and changing their mindset.

Coach me happy
Studies in to whether people can actually be trained to be happier found that coaching people to change their mind set, be positive and look at the bigger picture could change people’s levels of happiness in as little as four weeks.

Also, when researchers measured subjects’ happiness levels nine to18 months after ten weeks of coaching, they were found to be 12 percent happier than the controls, demonstrating the lasting effectiveness of happiness coaching.

So in essence, because happiness is infectious, good for our health and increases our wealth, coaching for happiness not just increases the client’s wellbeing – but your happiness levels too, plus your and their family, friends and neighbours happiness levels, and therefore increases your and their community’s life span, health and ability to make money. Now isn’t that nice? Let’s propose a toast to happiness coaching and hope it becomes the Next Big Thing!

And if you have been inspired to be one of the ones who will make a difference and become a happiness coach, then sign up today for the free 2-day coaching course.

By Bev James

Managing Director
The Coaching Academy

3 Responses to "Coach Me Happy"

1 | Viv Craske

July 23rd, 2009 at 1:50 pm

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I like the quote about ‘unhappy people can become happier by learning the habits of happy people’. As a confidence and happiness coach, I use this idea a lot to help people move towards happiness.

What’s interesting is to break down ‘habits’ into smaller pieces to learn.

Here’s what I do:

Pick someone you know of who appears really happy. They could be someone you know or a celebrity. For the rest of this exercise only focus on things specific to their happiness.

Now, notice they’re physiology. How to they walk, sit, hold themselves. Try it on for yourself and see how you feel. Practice it. Add in gestures too.

Now notice their behaviour – what do they, or what do you imagine they do to be more happy? How does this relate to what you could do more and less of to be happier? Aim to introduce as many new happiness-making behaviours as possible.

Now notice their mental or emotional state. What do you think it going on inside their head when they are living happily? Can you create a similar mental state and remember to switch it on in situations when you want to be happier.

Finally, breathing is often over-looked. Notice how they breathe. Where do they breathe from? What pace do they breathe? When does their breathing change. Again, try all this on yourself and practice.

This is a big picture overview of one way to create happiness quickly and let go of bad feelings. There are hundreds of techniques to achieve the above. If you like, why not watch some of my free video tutorials on happiness and confidence at: http://www.vivcraske.com

Be happy!

Viv Craske

2 | Bev James MD of The Coaching Academy

August 5th, 2009 at 10:25 am

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If people are happy being unhappy then i guess thats OK too.

3 | amanda doyle

August 19th, 2009 at 9:45 am

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Really enjoyed this post!
It reminds me that being possitive can be a red flag to a bull in some cases!
I think of myself as a really happy and possitive coach and I count my blessings every day that others are not like me so I can help them discover other emotions and feelings that they can chose to be “helpful” or “interesting” as our friend at the academy suggests!
Thank you
I shall remain happy and possitive!
Amanda

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