A HAPPINESS PROGRAM
The Fourteen Fundamentals Program is designed to be rigorous regimine of work and self-examination. In our past experiments we required a lot of effort and initiative from our participants. They were expected to devote a few hours a day practicing the happiness increasing strategies we had taught them (and that you will be learning about soon); they were expected to regularly study and review the materials we had covered; and they were expected to do a fair amount of self-reflection and personal analysis on their own, in the areas which were reccommend. In other words, the Fundamentals are not something merely to read about — they are designed to be practiced and continually reflected upon.
The Fundamentals incorporate both cognitive and behavioral elements. Both elements, according to our past research, contribute to the lasting happiness changes our participants have reported over the years.
On a cognitive (or thinking) level, much of the happiness improvement we have seen comes from insight and understanding. That is because a large portion of our discussion of the Fundamentals deals with the psychological theory behind happiness. As we present each of the Fundamentals in the chapters to come, we’ll devote a good deal of attention to the theoretical foundations upon which each is based. We’ll understand the various psychological mechanisms involved, and explain why these happiness-traits contribute so much to personal happiness.
On the behavioral (or action) level, just as much happiness improvement comes from actually practicing and using the Fundamentals. As you read, you’ll find that we have supplied a fair amount of practical advice as to how you can apply the Fundamentals yourself. Throughout the rest of this book, you’ll discover a various procedures, techniques, and strategies designed to help you develop the Fundamentals. So, more than just learning about happiness, the Fundamentals offer something concrete you can do about it.
Because the Fundamentals work on both a “thinking” and an “action” level, you have a graduated series of options available to you. The minimal option is to merely read through this volume for interest’s sake alone. The maximal option is to read this volume several times, study it well, and practice its reccommendations daily for many months (if not years) to come. Other options fall somewhere inbetween.
Which option you choose has a lot to do with how happy you already are, how happy you’ld like to become, and how much you’re willing to work at it.
I urge you to choose the maximal option, because therein lies the greatest potential for your achievement of lasting happiness. It will take a little extra time and effort on your part, but the results should be well worth it! Our research has consistiently shown that individual happiness gains are directly related to the amount of work invested in the Program. And though there is some evidence that people merely exposed to the Fundamentals show modest happiness improvements with little conscious work at all, the individuals who achieve the greatest and most lasting improvement in their happiness are the ones who work most dilligently with the Program.
Consider it a personal experiment. Why not work with the Fundamentals for a time, and see if they make any difference for you?
There is no mandatory way to proceed. In our actual experiments, the Fundamentals were presented one-at-a-time — typically in the order they are presented here in this book — and often with a day or two between the training sessions. Generally, our participants were encouraged to work on the particular Fundamental for the next day or so, until another was covered.
Once all the Fundamentals had been presented, our participants were given a month or two to work on their own. It was suggested that they concentrate their efforts on one Fundamental at a time, for a few days, until they had focused on all fourteen. Then, once they had “sampled” them all, they were encouraged to concentrate their practice on the particular Fundamentals which seemed most helpful to them. (In several of our studies, the participants were also aided by feedback from some psychological tests (xxx) which identified their happiness-weaknesses and helped them select which Fundamentals would be the most beneficial.)
By the end of the experiments, most of the participants had come to take a more individualized route toward their happiness. As different people have different needs, no two individuals concentrated on the same set of Fundamentals. A few ended up working on just one, particularly helpful, Fundamental; others gravitated to various combinations of three or four special favorites; and some, even at the end, continued to sequence through all fourteen, as they had begun. All tallied, no two individuals utilized the Fourteen Fundamentals quite the same way — nor should you…
Each of the Fundamentals works. In our experiments, we have tested some of the Fundamentals separately (1974) and in selected groupings (1988) and concluded that each can contribute to happiness. Likewise, in the debriefing proceedures which we conduct with our participants, every one of the fourteen Fundamentals has been indentified, by someone, as being the single Fundamental that is “the most helpful of all.” Thus, if you choose to work with the Program, it’s perfectly okay to individualize it to suit your own situation. Indeed, we actually reccommend that you do!
As you read on, and become more familiar with each of the Fundamentals, a number of things will become clear regarding your individual use of the Program:
First, many of you will find that some of the Fundamentals are already quite true of you already, and this should be expected…
Most of you, more than likely, rather “average” in your happiness right now. At least, that would be the most likely statistical prediction (since that’s how the “averages” are determined). Thus because you have already achieved a relatively modest level of happiness, a number of the happiness-characteristics covered in these Fourteen Fundamentals are things you probably already do — while others may not. As this may be the case, your reading of the Fourteen Fundamentals will tend to reveal an obvious set of individual priorities for your work with the Program. Some Fundamentals may already be quite typical of you (and here, little improvement may be needed). Others may be only partially true of you (and here, a little work might be indicated). But mainly, you should be looking for your weak points vis-a-vis the Fourteen Fundamentals — for here will be the items which could give your happiness the greatest boost.
Second, not every Fundamental is meant for every individual.
No matter what the research suggests, some Fundamentals may not be “right” for you. For example, although the research indicates that one would be happier if they could become more friendly and outgoing, becoming this way may offend your own cultural attitudes regarding proper social demeanor. Likewise, “lowering your expectations and aspirations” may run counter to a longstanding family tradition which you value. Other times, suggestions incorporated in the Fundamentas mas just feel “uncomfortable” for you, simply based on your own personality and temperment. In such cases, defer to your own inclinations. No matter what the research shows, there’s no need to go against your own values and inner feelings. If a Fundamental doesn’t sound “right” for you, you shouldn’t persue it.
Third, you don’t need to achieve all the Fundamentals to be happier.
Sometimes, some of my students get discouraged when they try to “Spend More Time Socializing” and their isolated, social situation just doesn’t provide the opportunities to do so. Sometimes, some of my friends become especially downhearted because they can’t seem to find a “Close Relationship.” Certainly, it would be ideal if you could achieve success at all fourteen of the Fundamentals — but you don’t have to!
Envision the Fourteen Fundamentals as building blocks. Each has its own individual contribution to make toward happiness! You can stack them up in any order. You can stack them up as many as you can. In a perfect situation, you may be able to stack all fourteen. But if you can’t, any twelve (or ten, or eight, or six) you can stack can make a big difference. Indeed, our experiments have shown that even one block can help create increased happiness! In sum, The Fundamentals present fourteen different pathways to help yourself to become happier. If one or two of these pathways is closed at the moment, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a happy person. Just concentrate on the ramining Fundamental paths which are available!
Fourth, and finally, there is the remote possibility that you’re one of those rare people (less than 5% to 7% of the population acccording to our best data) that’s already quite happy.
If so, you may find that your reading only confirms what you already suspected about yourself, i.e., that the Fourteen Fundamentals describe you completely. For you, then, what can be gained from our experimental program?
On the surface, there would appear to be little room for any happpiness improvement — or is there? One of the things our studies have demonstrated is that most people’s capacity for happiness is far greater than most experts in the field have ever imagined. Even extremely happy people report that they have been able to enhance their already high happiness-level following Fundamentals training. But more significantly, even when they are unable to increase theer happiness, there is a universal consensus among these happy people that learning about the Fourteen Fundamentals helps them understand “why” they are as happy as they are. Apparently, for the happier people we’ve studied, understanding “why” they are already as happy as they are is just as important as it is for unhappier people to understand “what” they can do about it.