I’ve had a full week. I’m a community governor at the local primary school where I’ve spent about 12 hours since Monday. I’m also co-chair of an educational charity; that’s taken another day out of an already busy schedule. All unpaid; more than once I’ve caught myself asking: Why do I do it? After all, I also run a business and need to make a living.
One answer is that I genuinely care. The children deserve the best start in life we can give them and the charity’s work is worth supporting. But there is more to this, I gain a sense of accomplishment, meaning and wellbeing from these activities that reaches places money doesn’t reach.
So what’s going on? Some interesting evidence about why meaning and purpose are important to happiness is emerging from the new field of positive psychology’s research into wellbeing and human flourishing.
Having all this extra work doesn’t always feel good – not in the way a massage, a bar of chocolate, or cozying up in front of the fire with a good book feel good! Research shows that short term pleasures, though a part of, are not the whole answer to life satisfaction. Lasting happiness is found in doing what is worth doing, experiencing flow, undertaking activities congruent with deeper values or using our strengths in the service of institutions or causes larger than ourselves. Spontaneous giving, acts of kindness, showing gratitude to others even in small ways boost happiness. These actions have the potential to improve not just our day but the whole way we feel about ourselves. Like paddling in the shallows of a lake on a hot day; pleasures feel good but only a deep plunge will really energize, leaving you tingling and feeling fully alive for the rest of the afternoon. Though this is something humanistic and transpersonal psychology have been saying for decades, the gift of positive psychology is its rigorous scientific base.
Positive psychology, in studying the conditions that help individuals and organizations thrive and realise potential dovetails perfectly with what coaches, managers, educators, and leaders do: create conditions for flourishing. I’m really excited by how this feeds into our approach to coaching at Wise Goose. Usually we rely on testimonials and anecdotal evidence so show how and why our work is effective. Now the body of positive psychology research is providing solid evidence that our way of teaching coaching at Wise Goose is effective and valid. This has the potential to contribute scientific legs upon which our work can firmly stand. Good news for us all in the field of coaching!