Putting theory into practice
There is no such thing as 100% certainty. Even Positive Psychology, which is based in reliable and evidence based research, can’t tell us for certain what will make everyone happy and successful. However, and most importantly, Positive Psychology shares information about the characteristics and behaviors common to happy and successful people, and suggests that what works well for most of the people, most of the time, may work for us too. What makes the difference between understanding theory and facilitating a subjective experience, is the application of putting theory into practice.
Speaking from experience
It’s very easy to hypothesize and pontificate about what won’t make a positive difference, and it requires little effort to criticize something that hasn’t been experienced. After all, although it’s possible to read and study about swimming, there is nothing to compare with the actual experience of immersing your body in water and using your arms and legs to propel you forward.
Actions speak louder than words
This is one reason why I have so much admiration for the UAE’s initiative to increase the happiness of its people. Instead of simply discussing the advantages of having a happy nation, they have made it a matter of national policy. The implications of how this can make a positive difference to individuals, organisations and institutions such as healthcare and education, cannot be overemphasized. Research has shown how happiness is spread from one person to others by up to three degrees of separation (from you to your friends, your friends’ friends and your friend’s friends, friends). I have often pondered about how this happiness contagion might affect a family or organisation but the concept of this effect in a whole nation is simply mind-blowing! Without the need of a precise mathematical calculation, based on the happiness contagion theory described above could/would/will this be the start of an epidemic – a contagion of global happiness?!
The butterfly effect
You may have heard of ‘the butterfly effect’, often used to explain the concept that even the smallest of events and changes can have a significant and profound change over time. The theory is that a butterfly might flap its wings in the Amazon and create changes to the atmosphere, which eventually results in the creation of a hurricane, thousands of miles away. In fact, this is a modern myth that arose from the fact that data presented as a diagram to support ‘chaos theory’, resembled a butterfly.
It was never suggested or intended that chaos theory could be accredited to the flapping wings of a butterfly but it is true in principle that a very small change in initial conditions can create a significant difference to the final outcome.
Butterflies provide a great metaphor for positive change as they start their lives as insects and are transformed by several processes that eventually sees them becoming the beautiful creatures that are found around the world. They represent hope and show that what can look like the end of one thing, might be necessary in order to initiate the beginning of something else, eg. caterpillar into pupa, pupa into butterfly.
Butterflies, appear by nature, to be full of lightness and joy and can remind us not to take ourselves and events so seriously. Chasing butterflies can be a frustrating quest because they flutter and travel in no predictable pattern and yet often, when we are still and quiet, a butterfly may choose to settle upon us. This is often compared with the futility of chasing happiness as a goal as when we focus on finding meaning and purpose in our lives instead, happiness appears and stays with us.
Just like a butterfly, happiness cannot be held too tightly.
“Happiness always looks small while you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and you learn at once how big and precious it is.”