Broadly, there are four types of researchers into happiness:
1. Those who study the broad environment to determine what makes a person happy. ‘Will a person be happier in a democratic society? How much greenery needs to be in the community? Does the disparity between the rich and the poor make a difference? What role is played by a person’s genes? Is an adult more likely to be happy if they are married? Or religious?’
The researchers in this field are academics.
2. There are those who focus on a person’s upbringing, asking ‘How can a child be raised to ensure they grow up well adjusted and happy? Are children better off breastfed? Spanked?’
Researchers in this field are usually academics.
3. There are those who ask, ‘What problem is causing that person to be unhappy, and how can that problem be fixed?’
These people are problem fixers: counsellors, psychologists and concerned people. They aim to make a person happier by dealing with the source of the unhappiness, or by helping the person become resilient.
4. And there are those who focus on how we, as individuals, can be happy irrespective of our circumstances. ‘How can a person be happy despite their environment, their upbringing, and their problems?’
The people in this field are the self-help gurus, spiritualists, life coaches, and motivators. And me.
While academics look at the environment to see how it influences the individual, the people in this group look at how the individual can respond to their environment.
” . . . self-help literature is full of good advice, but good advice is not the issue; most of it has been around for centuries. The issue is how to implement it.”
Kathryn Schultz, in her article, ‘The self in self-help‘, New York Magazine.
All four ways to study happiness are valid. All are important.
Q. ‘Mark, you put yourself in the fourth category, but distinguish yourself from the other happiness gurus and motivators. In what way are you different?’
The self-help gurus often ask us to change our thinking, our beliefs, or our feelings. It’s too hard to change those things. I focus on changing our awareness and our behaviours. When they change, then our thinking automatically changes.