Happiness and Positive Psychology: Reflective Essay

Happiness. We all strive for it through material gain, prestige, relationships and often through religious affiliation. Britain as a whole is reported to be less happy today than they were in 1957[1]. Happiness seems to come so easy for some and is a constant struggle as a goal to obtain for others. While some can be happy when they are in a relationship, for example, within a year that wonderful level of happiness seems to wane, even if the relationship is fulfilling and even more wonderful and loving than it had been when the happiness level went up the year before.

The module reviewed in class on happiness and positive psychology was extremely illuminating for this writer. In many ways it served to answer questions this writer has always had that remained unanswered, such as why am I not as happy in general as many others I see. When reflecting back to my parents and grandparents, it never dawned on this writer that their dour demeanours would be the genetic basis for my personal happiness set point. Other concepts in the module, such as effective tools or analytical measures such as the various psychometric instruments gave me pause for introspection.

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Given the many topics covered in the module, this essay will reflect on my personal growth and the personal knowledge gained through the use of both psychometric instruments covered in class and others investigated for purposes of this essay. Through the incorporation of personal reflection for a personal case study, the following topics will be discussed:

Personality and set point
Personal Strengths- what yours are, how they applied, how you might Apply them, what limiting factors exits
Approaches to happiness- pleasure, eudemonia , methexis
General level of happiness (Fordyce)
Gratitude exercise (reflections on the exercise, not the text itself)
Random acts of kindness

Personality and set point

When looking at the set point concept, that of the genetic establishment of our overall happiness level[2], it is a sad reality for me. Genetically neural transmitter imbalances are known to be hereditary, causing issues with clinical depression, anxiety and psychosis, however, it was not until the infamous study with conducted with identical twins that demonstrated only a 40 -50 percent similarity in happiness between the two siblings[3], that it was determined approximately 50 percent of our happiness is set by our genetic makeup[4]. Researchers tell us that happiness is “genetically influenced, but not genetically fixed” leaving room for personal intervention[5] with some of the tool identified in the current module such as ABCDE and performing random acts of kindness that can boost one’s happiness quotient. Clifford[6] tells us that the set-point concept is like a psychological immune system, limiting or repairing emotional damage and preventing us from dipping too low. Set-point is an interesting concept with regard to happiness, for example, research tells us that wining the lottery may make an individual happier, but only for the short term before returning to the individual’s normal set-point[7].

My personality is upbeat, personable and generally very positive as it appears to others, whereas from a personal stance, a much more serious attitude, that of taking life seriously is more evident and within the core of my being, happiness is not a common element. Not that sadness is either, but overall I am a relatively comfortable individual, not necessarily content in my lot, but doing the best I can. I experienced a particularly memorable situation of profound happiness caused by an extrinsic event – that of buying a dream car, only to have the euphoria and excitement of driving it on the open road become mundane, as the fine automobile became nothing more than a normal car after about six months. I wasn’t not happy, but the profound feeling of happiness and excitement getting behind the wheel was no longer there.

Dean Hammer[8] comments that personality is what can temper the genetic predisposition towards happiness or sullenness, by virtue of our character. For example, based on my personality, the car which provided the happiness boost was a Mustang convertible. It has been said that when I’m in my 70s, my personality is such that I shall still be driving a sports car as a senior.

Hammer[9] goes on to state that the reality of set-point science has to do with the serotonin transporter that controls how much free serotonin is available in our system at any one time. Serotonin transporters are made by specific genes, such that Hammer states some people produce a lot, others have less effective serotonin transporters[10]. Of interest is Hammer’s statement[11] that two-thirds of people have genes that can make us more depressed, anxious or angry. While set-point is equated with a happiness quotient, I also believe that there is a corresponding set-point, or predisposition, towards depression, anger and anxiety. If I’m not attentive, it is easy for me, with a more serious personality, to fall prey to the depressive genetic tendency that I have.


Having a general optimistic outlook is a healthful tool and effective intervention for leading a happier life. If one looks at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty you tend to see the sunnier side of things, the brighter side. Perhaps it’s my genetic makeup, perhaps it’s my slightly lower happiness quotient, but remaining consistently optimistic requires considerable effort. Optimism is not something that comes naturally to me. As a child it did, but through life events I tend to see things more realistically; although given the subjective nature of such concepts as happiness or optimism, perhaps my reality is tempered with the depressive and anxious predisposition I have. One of the tools I have utilised, however, in order to remain optimistic at times, is having lists with me of things that I know I can take pride in, such as my school work or various domestic abilities, such as cooking and baking. When I am seeing the glass as less than half-full, I pull out the list and have cause for reflecting on my positive achievements which provide factual evidence to whatever it is I would like to be optimistic about. For example, if I would like to remain optimistic about a grade in a particular class, I can site evidence for the grades I have received in that class up until the particular test or particular semester end. If I would like to remain optimistic that a gentleman will call me to go out on a date, I can remind myself with the facts of our relationship up to that point: he has phoned daily, we have gone out every Friday and Saturday for the last four months, etc. If I would like to remain optimistic regarding a weight loss plan, I need remind myself of the clothes I have that are getting larger and the ability I have to get into smaller size jeans and not have any extra fat or bulges anywhere they don’t belong.

Personal Strengths

When I look at my personal strengths, there are a variety of strengths I can call upon to help with boosting my happiness quotient. I am a highly analytic individual. That is one of my major strengths. I am also an individual many people find easy to talk to. It is easy for me to develop friendships and relationships with others. I am also a very empathetic person, such that I can not only appreciate what someone else is going through, but I feel their pain along with them.

Of course, having such a personality has major advantages for developing friendships, and according to research friendship is one of the major happiness enhancing tools/techniques[12] such that people find it easy to confide in you, instantly feel close to you, etc. it has its drawbacks. Many times such friendships can feel one sided – the other is always “dumping” on you, the other is always “seeking advice” not necessarily in a malicious way or with the intent to abuse a friendship, but because they see you as the one individual in whom they can confide. This can have a slingshot effect when suddenly the friendship no longer is pleasurable for me but is seen as a chore. For example, I have one friend who continually seeks advice about her husband and her inability to trust him. After belabouring the point for months in conversation, I know when she calls to go shopping or for coffee that conversation will almost exclusively revolve around that topic. After months of listening and providing advice, I now avoid spending time with her.

There are several distinct approaches to happiness that the module has brought to light relative to seeking greater levels of happiness and knowing that although I have set-point issues and other genetic predispositions to overcome, in addition to my lists and using my strengths to develop relationships. For example, approaches to happiness that were brought out in the class module were pleasure, eudemonia , and methexis. Eudemonia is the Greek word for happiness, although a more popular translation for the term relates to the flourishing of the human spirit. In order to achieve greater levels of happiness, it seems that when we seek to nurture ourselves and our spirit, it cannot help but allow us to be all that we can and to flourish. Often, as commented in the previous section, group participation and a sense of affiliation and belonging, perhaps through friendship, but definitely in the group environment, as is identified by methexis, happiness is also possible. Our natural pleasure seeking behaviours, when satisfied, also lead to happiness. For example, I know without question that the sweet taste and warm smooth sensation of chocolate melting in my mouth is pleasurable. And, at times when I seek greater levels of happiness, I may reach for a piece of chocolate. The satisfaction that comes with the pleasurable event does heighten my level of happiness[13].

Two tools brought out in the module have proven to be particularly enlightening and beneficial, that I believe I can successfully incorporate into my life in order to achieve greater levels of happiness include:

Performing random acts of kindness

The ABCDE method is a way to reframe thoughts and take active control over them[14]. Reivich and Shatte[15] tell us that if we take control of our thought processes, we take control of our emotions since thoughts are shown to generate emotions. ABCDE is an acronym for adversity, beliefs, consequences, dispute and energy[16]. The overall method requires a detailed exercise that requires documenting or describing as completely as possible the adverse situation, trying to be as factual as possible, without allowing beliefs to enter into the scenario description[17]. During the beliefs phase you build on the adversity and describe “what you were saying to yourself” during the adverse situation[18], in other words, what was the self-talk you were saying to yourself. The next phase focuses on the consequences of your beliefs and requires a description or detailing of all emotions and reactions felt[19]. Dispute requires the individual to identify at least one piece of factual evidence that highlights how the beliefs were inaccurate and unfounded[20], in other words, putting things in their proper perspective, taking the negative emotions out. After identifying the evidence, an alternative way of looking at the situation is discovered and then the whole scenario is put into perspective[21]. Finally, the energy step is used to identify or rate how the ABCD phases helped to shift what was negative energy into positive energy and thoughts[22].

I used this exercise following the demise of a close friendship that had been established similarly to that described earlier, when all I felt I was doing was being there to advise and in this case for over five years at someone else’s convenience only. The other individual is heavily egocentric and a narcissist. When we argued at the time of the demise, she typically said many very hurtful things. I am non-confrontational, so I just drove away leaving many things unsaid that festered inside of me, definitely compromising my happiness quotient. When applying ABCDE, I had the following results:

Adversity: CN = who, dissolution of friendship/argument = what, two months ago = when, in the car as I was driving on the highway to drop her back at her home = where. It was during rush hour on the roads, it was hot and the air conditioner was on, I was going very fast and afraid that my growing anger was going to lead me to unsafe driving. I also felt like I was talking with someone who was drunk, i.e., “Don’t confuse me with the facts” as she only heard what she wanted to hear and picked out specific words rather than hearing or dealing with things in their proper context.

Beliefs – part of me believed what she said, especially the very hurtful arrows she shot at me, thus self-talk such as “CN must be right, I am hateful” or “I am just like my mother[23]” rather than rejecting her comments as purely defensive.

Consequences – I was absolutely enraged, almost got into an accident, was hysterical when I finally got home. I have been unable to let it go and be comfortable. I feel I left so many things unsaid that would hurt her the way she hurt me.

Dispute: Evidence that her issues were untrue are based on factual history documenting the one sided friendship and my friendship and personality. Alternative way of seeing this is by stating “I’ve had enough of a bad situation, I don’t need to keep putting myself there and the friendship is over. It’s like a bad breakup with a member of the opposite sex, no matter how it’s done if someone is hurt, they lash out; it doesn’t mean what they said is true.” Putting it in perspective is similar to Alternative for me.

Energy – I feel even more refreshed and positive, healthy and lighter overall just writing this down for the essay than I did when I originally went through this for the module in class. I feel clearer and more available for myself and others. I feel happier.

Random acts of kindness are shown to bring happiness to others and to the self[24]. Nahum[25] tells us that something as simple as a kind word or volunteering demonstrate acts of benevolence, such that “others want to be around the person who is considered kind to others and therefore at peace with themselves.” This of course, builds on the concept that relationships and friendship, no matter how trivial, can bring happiness. In the trivial, as an act of not taking wait staff at restaurants or clerks at the grocery for granted when all they hear all day is complaints, I chat with them and ask about their day. If I see another customer has given them a particularly hard time I chat with the clerk or server to draw them out and make them feel better about themselves and the situation. It puts a smile on both of our faces and I always feel happier.

As a result of the module, I registered with Authentic Happiness[26], Dr. Martin Seligman’s website, and a variety of psychometric instruments were used to determine this writer’s personal level of happiness. Five of the questionnaires on Seligman’s site[27] were completed. The following identify the questionnaires taken and the scores received.

Authentic Happiness Inventory[28], scoring 3.08 on a scale of 1 – 5;

Fordyce Emotions Questionnaire[29], scoring 7 overall, on a scale of 0 – 10; 80 out of 100 and 20 out of 100 on subscales;

General Happiness Scale[30], scoring 3.75 on a scale of 1 – 7;

Gratitude Survey[31], scoring 19 on a scale of 6 – 42;

Approaches to Happiness Questionnaire[32] assessing three routes to happiness, scoring:

3.17 on a scale of 1 – 5 for Pleasant Life,

2.83 on a scale of 1 – 5 for Good Life, and

2.33 on a scale of 1 – 5 for Meaningful Life.

Although the module had a significant impact on me, there are issues that need to be discussed relative to the merits of using psychometric instruments.

One of the major frustrations found in the use of psychometric instruments is the lack of feedback based on the scoring received. For example, on a scale of 2.33 for Meaningful Life in the Approaches to Happiness Questionnaire[33] one could surmise that this writer does not feel that she is living a significantly meaningful life. That is not an accurate depiction at all and is contradictory to the 3.75 rating on the General Happiness Scale[34] which indicates there is a stronger element of happiness felt.

Researchers have determined that the use of more than one psychometric instrument is often beneficial to eliminate jumping to conclusions based on one score, and trying to achieve a consensus and/or overall picture from those instruments used[35]. Steiner and Thibault[36] go on to point out the dangers associated with false-positive results when psychometric instruments are used in a general setting, for example, administering the Beck’s Depression Scale to an entire patient population, including those who are not suffering from depression. Hancock[37] also commented on the potential for a subject to have test anxiety, whether that be related to the academic environment or the general psychological makeup of the individual. Assessing the individual’s scores on a particular individual or series of psychometric instruments may not yield the same results in one person as it would someone with test anxiety as their general fears would compromise the validity and reliability of the instrument’s results[38]. Other researchers have commented on the impact to the validity of an instrument based on differences presented by cultural norms and ideologies[39],[40].

Other researchers have brought up the issues of instrument validity and reliability in general, such as Garb, Lilienfeld, Nezworski and Wood[41] who detail the generalized nature of interpreting the most frequently used psychometric instrument for the last 85 years – the Rorschach inkblot test. Garb et al.[42] state that with the exception of schizophrenia, the test does not measure or detect psychological or personality disorders with any degree of reliability or validity and is subject to interpreter error. Garb et al.[43] emphasize that results can be interpreted much like one’s horoscope with generalized phrases, referred to as Barnum statements, such as “Hmmmm. This is obviously a very bright individual. Well educated, a cerebral type. Focuses on thoughts, probably avoids reacting to events in a purely emotional way. I have the impression of a scientist rather than a business person or artist, though I do see some artistic tendencies” or they will interpret the results based on prior knowledge of the patient and facts surrounding the patient’s case.

Researchers cite mixed reasons behind the difficulty of using psychometric instruments to determine one’s level of happiness. For example, Matousek[44] comments that happiness is a subjective term and that the element of subjectivity is the “greatest variable in the happiness equation.” Given the subjective nature of happiness, developing a valid and reliable psychometric instrument is difficult. Providing a means of interpreting the results of such an instrument would present even greater difficult as those participating in studies have their own subjective definitions of happiness and events as well.


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