23 January 2018
For those whose New Year’s resolutions are already falling by the wayside, a researcher from the University of the Sunshine Coast suggests a shift in focus could help.
Positive psychology PhD researcher and professional coach Paula Loveday has found that personal happiness has more to do with the happiness of loved ones than ticking off personal achievements.
“My research has really highlighted the importance of relationships and our connection with others, more so than money or success,” she said.
“When we have good relationships we have a sense of achievement, like our lives are working out well; a sense of relatedness which is the enjoyment of being with others; and a sense of altruism in that we can support others.
“But the thing that was particularly surprising was that imagining a bright future for loved ones was part of how people imagined their own happiness.”
As part of her PhD thesis, Ms Loveday asked 141 people to write how they envisaged their “best possible future”, and measured their perceived levels of happiness before and after the exercise.
“Not everyone mentioned health or money or success, but every single person wrote something to do with others, and it was this act of picturing their loved ones in happy situations that allowed them to express closeness, compassion and hope for others,” she said.
“Some wrote about their children, spouses, friends or even their work colleagues.
“The people that we care about bring contentment, purpose and meaningfulness to our lives.
“If you want to have a feeling of achievement and satisfaction, then it is probably very useful to set achievement-based goals. But if you are looking for a feeling of peace and contentment, then you should make relationships the focus. That is the thing that matters the most to people and all the other things feed into it.
“But it is also a harder goal to pin down. It’s much easier to say I’m going to run five kilometres by the end of March, than ‘I’m going to love my family more deeply this year’.”
Ms Loveday is submitting her thesis A mixed-methods investigation of the Best Possible Selves intervention: Relationships and thriving at the end of January.
Ms Loveday has been an executive coach and trainer in the finance and education sectors for six years (including four years on the Sunshine Coast). Before this, Paula spent eight years as a manager in the corporate arena, 10 years teaching in universities, and four years teaching primary school.
She is passionate about positive emotions and thoughts, and the role they play in human connection and happiness.
- Janelle Kirkland