Preparing for happiness

Preparing for happiness

Although I now practice mostly as a positive psychology coach and consultant I still remember much of my days as a clinical psychologist and I still find most of what I learned while studying clinical psychology to be useful in my current roles.

Among many other things, I remember learning about a fascinating body of research on a topic that was most often referred to as “Preparedness Theory”. Notably, preparedness theory challenged those of us who believed in the most dominant paradigm of the day which was learning theory.

In short, while not denying the role of genetic make-up and even personality, learning theory proposed that our behaviour was largely determined by our past experiences. So, for example, referring to the area in which this was mostly applied, an individual might develop anxiety or even a phobia for cars if when young, he or she was involved in an unpleasant or traumatic experience while in a car.

Preparedness theory, however, threw quite a large spanner in the works by noting that many of the most common phobias (such as those associated with spiders and insects, heights and enclosed spaces) frequently occurred in the absence of any obvious incident in the person’s past. Despite many sophisticated attempts to identify past traumas and negative events often nothing of significance could be found.

Accordingly, in an attempt to explain and understand these somewhat surprising results, preparedness theory was developed and without going in to too much detail, it can be summed up as follows – we (humans) are born with an in-built system that prepares us to avoid certain situations so that we don’t need to learn from our mistakes.

If you think about it this makes perfect sense because if you had to fall off a cliff, or experience the bite of a venomous spider before developing a fear then it might well be too late to learn any lessons! Preparedness theory, supposedly developed over thousands of years of evolution, saves us the pain of learning by building the lessons of our predecessors into our brains.

Now I’ve been wondering what it would be like if we could build in preparedness for happiness! Given that we know, based on the last few decades of research in positive psychology, what will make us happy and given that we’ve developed a range of effective coaching strategies proven to enhance happiness and wellbeing, what would it be like if we could integrate these into our lives so that no matter what was going on we’d always (or almost always) respond in helpful and constructive ways more likely to enhance our positive feelings and minimise negative feelings, as opposed to slipping into old traps and bad habits?

In short, this would surely be great!

And do you know what? It’s distinctly possible. How do I know this? Because we achieve this on a regular basis through our coaching and group programs at The Happiness Institute. We know that achieving happiness requires nothing more than practising a few simple disciplines every day and we help people create a way of living their lives built around positive disciplines.

How can you do this?

Start by identifying when you’re at your happiest – what are you doing during these times; who are you with; what thoughts go through your mind; and what inner strengths are you utilising? Then give some thought to how you can apply these lessons in other parts of your life. Practice and persevere to ensure you master what could potentially be life changing strategies. Use reminders and create positive routines to ensure you don’t forget to do what will help you live a better life; and consider finding a “buddy” with whom to practice being happy.