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Imagine that you have a younger sibling who is 17-years-old and is facing an existential dilemma. S/he reports being frequently “bored with life” and not sure “what it is all about.” Write a letter to this sibling using research-based findings to help this individual become a happier person. In organizing your thoughts around this issue consider three different elements of happiness espoused in the literature: (1) pursuit of pleasure (hedonism), (2) meaning (eudaimonia), or (3) engagement (flow). What role does each play in the “life well lived”? Consider using real-life examples and comparisons from your own life. How has this worked for you? What advice can you give as the older, wiser sibling? Consider recent research in your answer and frame your response in the language of the course.
Happiness is not only living well but living well in the life that is good for one to live.
3 major conceptions of happiness historically.
1. Hedonism: happiness is a result of pleasure
2. Eudaimonia: people are happiest when they give meaning to their lives by developing their potentials and using them for the greater good
3. Engagement: the psychological state that accompanies highly involving activities
Happiness levels can altered by intentional activity. Could be behavioral, such as exercising or an act of kindness. Also it could be cognitive, such as pausing to count one's blessings. Another activity can be volitional, such as devoting effort to a meaningful cause. The most effective may be a combination of all 3.
McMahan, I. (2009).
. New York New York: Pearson.
-Initiative: the ability to motivate oneself to strive toward a challenging goal.
Aspects of initiative: intrinsic motivation, directed attention, and a challenging goal.
- art, hobbies, and community service projects - all three aspects of initiative come into play
-Interest: the quality that focuses attention on certain activities and motivates the person to engage in them.
"Adolescents who maintain a high level of interest in their lives and activities are more likely to believe that what they do has an impact on what happens to them" (McMahan, 2009, p.487)
-Hope: must be able to imagine that they could be happier. They have to want it and believe that it could actually happen.
Happiness - living a life that is good for oone to life and that may include the pursuit of meaning, and the pursuit of engagement
-King, L. & Hicks, J. (2007). Whatever Happened to "What Might Have Been"?: Regrets, Happiness, and Maturity.
, 62(7), 625-636.
regrets, happiness, and maturity.pdf
This article discusses the importance of acknowledging lost opportunities because it can actually lead to happiness.
The above article also discusses ego development, Lerner (1998), the development of character as one acquires a more expansive view of oneself and the world. I would guess this suggests excitement ahead! Something to look forward to! Such expansion and complexity definitely keeps life from getting stagnant and boring! This ego development proceeds especially rapidly as one approaches and experiences young adulthood (Cohn, 1998). Ego development includes openness to experience and increased compassion, intellectuality and tolerance (Helson and Roberts, 1994); articulateness, intuition and sublimation (Valiant and McCollough, 1987); empathy and the capacity for interpersonal connectedness (Pals and Johns, 1998)
Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J. K., & Sheldon, K. M. (2011). Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being.
, 11(2), 391-402. doi:10.1037/a0022575
Will and Way Happiness Study.pdf
The study examined two prevailing ideas on increasing happiness – positive thinking and gratitude. The study found that to be effective a person needs to have both the motivation and a correct method (the idea of having a will and a way). These activities, when done with effort, were shown in the study to be effective in maintaining well-being.
I'm not sure if I am doing this right. Here is what I have:
Dear younger sibling,
I understand that you are feeling “bored with life” and are not sure “what it is all about.” In other words, it sounds like you are having an existential dilemma. Though having this dilemma is painful, I think it is normal and healthy. Sometimes, it is easy to think you are the only one going through these things. Elkind would call this “personal fable.” In reality, many of your peers are struggling through the same things you are.
It sounds like you are experiencing cognitive dissonance or a state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes. Though this is painful, this should motivate you to figure out who you are, what you are all about, and where you would like to head in life. Erikson would say you are trying to resolve the identity vs. role confusion psychosocial stage of adolescent development (Santrock, 2008) .I would recommend not ignoring or denying your dilemma, but to follow through in seeking to resolve it. In other words, enter the exploration status of identity formation. This may not be a pleasant process, but in the end it will be worth it resulting in identity achievement. Do not be discouraged if this process takes longer then you expect. While late adolescence and early adulthood is the main time when identity formation occurs, it will be a life long process and it is typical for individuals to reexamine these life questions later in life.
As the older, wiser sibling, I thought I would give you some tips on how to be a happier person. First, I would caution against hedonism. Hedonism may make you feel happier in the short term, but research suggests that your happiness level will adjust to the higher standard of living and return to baseline. For example, say you won a new car. For awhile your happiness level would go up, but after awhile you would get used to the higher standard of living and your happiness level will return to where it was before you had the new car. Psychologists refer to this as the “adaptation principle.” Considering this, constantly striving for greater and greater pleasure does not make sense because your body will constantly return to baseline and like running on a treadmill, you will not get anywhere. Many people do not learn this lesson and constantly strive after pleasure. When they attain it and get used to it, they strive after greater and greater pleasure redoubling their efforts. Eventually, they may find themselves at a point where they cannot attain greater pleasure and they experience disillusionment. If you ever wondered why some celebrities continue to have personal problems when they “have everything” this is part of the reason why.
My advice is if you want happiness, don’t seek it directly. Viktor Frankl put it this way: “Don’t aim for success- the more you aim for it the more you are going to miss it. For success like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as an unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater then yourself.” Miltaly Csikszentmihalyl wrote that happiness is an unintended side effect of something he called “Flow.” He wrote that “flow” is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. Almost any activity has the potential to elicit flow. However, some activities can elicit flow easier. Sports, video games, and rock-climbing are some good examples.
Basically, one experiences flow when you become so immersed in an activity that you lose sense of self, lose sense of time, etc. In other words, you become so focused on that activity that everything else falls away. Miltaly wrote that for this to happen, the activity needs to be challenging, the individual needs to feel like the activity betters themselves, and the activity can give immediate feedback. One of the main themes of flow is that you need to learn how to enjoy the process instead of only being focused on the goal you are trying to attain. Another theme is controlling consciousness. In order to experience flow, you need to be able to focus your mind. I would recommend that you find some activities that can put you in a state of flow. Miltaly wrote that it is possible to get to a place where you are almost in a constant state of flow all the time. I think this is easier said then done, but is something to work towards.
I have more thoughts, but I thought I would let some of your other siblings comment.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990).
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
. New York: Harper and Row
McMahan, I. (2008).
Allyn & Bacon.
Santrock, J. W. (2006).
Life-span development 10th edition.
McGraw-Hill. New York.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990).
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
. New York: Harper and Row
Here are some of Csikszentmihalyi’s main thoughts on Flow from one of his books:
ne experiences flow when you become so immersed in an activity that you lose sense of self, lose sense of time, etc.
Almost any activity has the potential to elicit flow. However, some activities can elicit flow easier. Sports, video games, and rock-climbing are some good examples.
For flow to happen, the activity needs to be challenging (but not too challenging), the individual needs to feel like the activity betters themselves, and the activity can give immediate feedback. An example of immediate feedback is if you are playing football and throw the ball to a receiver. Immediately, you get feedback whether or not the throw was accurate based on whether the throw was completed or not.
After flow, the organization of self is more complex then before. In other words, after flow, you feel “more together” then before because all the components of your mind and body have to work together. The task needs to be challenging enough that all the components of your mind and body
to work together or else success is unlikely. As a result, you get better at getting the components of your mind and body to work together better and you experience growth.
During flow, the individual will often not experience any emotions. The individual is so immersed in the task that they do not have time to notice how they feel. Afterwards, they feel enjoyment looking back on the experience and want to do it again.
The experience of flow can be so enjoyable for some individuals will go to great lengths to experience it again and again. An example of this would be a “beach bum” surfer who spends all his free time on the beach and only works enough to supplement his hobby. While this person does not appear to be getting anywhere in life, they don’t care because they like the flow they experience when surfing so much.
The experience of flow is even higher when you are working in groups such as a sports team. Not only are you becoming more connected with yourself and the environment, but you are becoming more connected with others. In flow, there is a theme of connection.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990).
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
. New York: Harper and Row
This particular studies talks about the SoMe Questionnaire, used to measure meaningfullness and crisis of meaning. Sources of meaning and the experience of meaning in life are the upper levels of the scale according to the SoMe. It has a few studies designed to provide a better view of existential indifference.
Existential Indifference Another Quality of Meaning in Life.pdf
Sources of meaning help to
1. Motivate commitment
2. Help to provide direction in life
3. Increase significance of life
Some subjective experiences of meaningfulness: finding meaning in what you do, believing you are a part of something bigger, and believing that life has a deeper meaning.
Feelings related to crisis of meaning: I have a sense of emptiness when I think about the meaning of life, I don't have a purpose in life, or I don't find any sense in life.
To find meaning one must: have a sense of self-knowledge and have motivation to stay commited to finding meaning.
Schnell, T. (2010). Existential indifference: Another quality of meaning in life.
Journal of Humanistic Psychology
, 50(3), 351-373.
For me personally, always being part of something and being engaged with others has helped me to be happy. In school it was being in extracurricular activities. Now, as an adult, finding a cause to support, a project to work towards, an adult group to belong to, or a goal to meet helps to keep me happy and out of a slump of boredom and disinterest. For adolescents, there is a list of benefits associated with extracurricular activities:
more engaged in school
talking with and expressing concerns to adults
higher educational aspirations
less likely to drop out and continue to college
higher self-esteem and less depressed
better initiative and social skills
less delinquency, behavioral problems, and substance use
Extracurricular activities are intrinsically motivated activities and allow adolescents to choose what they want to do. Getting involved in an activity that interests them could lead to a new found happiness in an area that wasn't thought possible. It also introduces someone to other people who have the same interests and experiences which can lead to social happiness. (p. 234)
McMahan, I. (2009).
. Boston: Pearson.
What is Happiness?
Pleasure, meaning and engagement - all these three elements are psychological pusuits and have their applications in practical things in this world. Hence, it is important to consider happiness in practical things like relationships, academics or intellectual pursuits, social engagement, etc.
Relationships and happiness - intimacy, secure attachment, similarities, support and protection, co-rumination, acceptance, non-judgmental (McMahan, 2009) - fundamental adolescent needs for happiness and growth
Intellectual pursuits / finding your path - Motives, expectancies and values (McMahan, 2009)
Motive - motive to succeed, motive to avoid failure
Expectancy - a person's subjective belief that taking some action will lead to a certain consequence (Eg. If I study hard, I have a good change of acing the final)
Values - attainment value (how important do you feel it is to do well on the task), intrinsic value (how much enjoyment do you get from doing the task), utility value (how useful to you are the consequences of doing the task), cost (what other activities do you have to give up to do the task; what are the emotional costs)
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic - undertaking an activity for the sake of the interest or enjoyment that the activity brings. Extrinsic - undertaking an activity for the sake of the expected outcome or consequence
Locus of causality - a belief that the cause of an outcome is something about the person (internal) or about the situation (external). Eg - if you think that you succeeded because of your effort, you feel happier and prouder than if you attribute your success to the easiness of a task. Locus of causality has great emotional value.
Controllability - the belief that we have control over the outcome of an event
Career choices - Holland's six vocational inclincations
Realistic - working with real things more than with ideas (Eg. farmer, carpenter)
Investigative - enjoy abstract problems (Eg. psychologists)
Artistic - look for opportunities for self expression; tend to be original, independent and unconventional (Eg. artists)
Social - get along well with others and concerned about their welfare (Eg. social workers)
Enterprising - enjoy selling, convincing, good with words, attraction to power (Eg. salespersons, managers)
Conventional - prefer very orderly activities (Eg. clerks, accountants)
The need to belong, a sense of community, team work, making a difference in people's lives, self expression (McMahan, 2009)
To do more than just survive, but to thrive and enjoy life, here are six things you should look for in yourself:
The basic goals of positive youth development:
competence -- do you feel that you can act effectively? resolve conflicts, making effective decisions, study productively?
confidence -- do you feel positively about yourself and your self-efficacy?
character -- do you have personal integrity?
connection -- do you feel connected to others in your school, family and community?
caring -- do you feel compassion for others?
contribution -- do you contribute to your family, school, community?
(McMahan (2009), pg. 472)
Study on psychosocial factors of happiness in adolescents :
Vella-Brodrick, D.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2009). Three ways to be happy: Pleasure, engagement, and meaning - findings from australian and us samples.
Social Indicators Research, 90(2),
165-179. doi: 10.1007/s11205-008-9251-6.
Three ways to be happy.pdf
This study looked at the effects of pleasure, engagement, and meaning on subjective well-being (happiness). The samples includes Australians as well as Americans and the results are somewhat different between the two groups, but it is good information.
Bronk, K.C., Hill, P.L., Lapsley, D.K., Talib, T.L., & Finch, H. (2009). Purpose, hope, and life satisfaction in three age groups.
Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6),
Purpose, hope, and life satisfaction.pdf
Identifying a purpose and searching for a purpose in life is associated with greater life satisfaction. Hiope was found to be signifcantly related to purpose - identifying with a purpose and knowing one has the ability to attain leads to increased satisfaction with life. This is just a very brief summary of the findings of this study.
Does a lack of meaning cause boredom - Results from psychometric, longitudinal, and experimental analyses.pdf
This study examines the correlation between finding meaning and purpose in life and the causes of boredom. Additionally, depression and anxiety are looked at in relation to boredom proneness and boredom coping. The study also looks at the relationship between life meaning and boredom over time and whether a change in one predicts a change in the other. The findings suggest that boredom is related to life meaning and negative affect and that there may be a bidirectional relationship.
- also emphasized is that boredom has not been thoroughly studied because it "sounds trivial, inconsequential, or simply uninteresting, and is not studied or taken seriously as a result. However, boredom is associated with serious psychological and physical health difficulties, and should not be taken lightly or dismissed (Fahlman, Mercer, Eastwood, & Eastwood, 2009, p. 335).
- "To assist individuals who are experiencing boredom-either in clinical or nonclinical contexts-it may be important to target their sense of life meaning, as it is clearly one important factor in producing feelings of boredom" (p. 336).
Fahlman, S.A., Mercer, K.B., Gaskovski, P., Eastwood, A.E., & Eastwood, J.D. (2009). Does a lack of life meaning cause boredom? Results from psychometric, longitudinal, and experimental analyses.
Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology
, 28(3), 307-340.
How do people pursue happiness - Relating personality, happiness-increasing strategies and well-being.pdf
This article looks are different factors that influence happiness. The three happiness predictors discussed are life circumstances and demographics, personality traits and disposition, and intentional strategies and behavior. Disposition and personality seem to account for a large portion of variance in happiness. Happiness increasing strategies are also listed under the following categories: Social Affiliation, Partying, Passive Leisure, Active Leisure, Mental Control, Instrumental Goal Pursuit, Religion, and Direct Attempts. Examples of each are in the chart on pages 192-193. The study found that certain personality traits predicted the use of particular happiness increasing strategies.
Tkach C. & Lyubomirsky S. (2006). How do people pursue happiness? Relating personality, happiness-increasing strategies, and well-being.
Journal of Happiness Studies, 7
The role of purposeful work goals in promoting meaning in life and in schoolwork during adolescence.pdf
This study examines the relationship between work goals, purpose, and meaning in life. Identity and motivation are also discussed.
- visions of material success in the future by getting a good job vs. overall life meaning and motivational force
"Work goals might relate to both eudaimonc well-being and academic motivation through identity development, that is, when adolescents think about who they want to become in life, their decisions and daily task may become more meaningful than if they were not connected to important personal strivings" (Yeager & Bundick, 2009, p. 426).
Yeager, D.S. & Bundick, M.J. (2009). The role of purposeful work goals in promoting meaning in life and in schoolwork during adolescence.
Journal of Adolescent Research, 24
Caldwell, L. L., Darling, N., Payne, L. L., & Dowdy, B. (1999). `Why are You Bored?': An Examination of Psychological and Social Control Causes of Boredom Among Adolescents.
Journal of Leisure Research
, 31(2), 103. Retrieved from EBSCO
Why are you bored.pdf
If you are bored because your parents are too controlling about what you do, here is a research-based argument you could use:
To combat boredom, adolescents need intrinsic motivation and self-determination; they need choice, mitigated adult structure and control (especially for older adolescents; younger ones need more), and reduced feelings of obligation.
Chaplin, L. (2009). Please May I Have a Bike? Better Yet, May I Have a Hug? An Examination of Children’s and Adolescents’ Happiness.
Journal of Happiness Studies
, 10(5), 541-562. doi:10.1007/s10902-008-9108-3
Please may I have a bike
What determines happiness differs depending on developmental stage:
3rd graders: hobbies, people, pets
7/8th graders: material possessions, people, pets
12th graders: achievement, people, pets
Overall, youth gained happiness most from relationships, not material items.
If you are bored, look at how you're currently investing your energy. Are you buying things to find happiness? If so, consider investing more energy in relationships. Maybe hobbies now bore you because you're at an older stage; try excelling in an area, work harder to achieve in school or with a particular talent.
Chaplin, L. (2008). Please may I have a bike.
Springer Science+Business Media.
Positive psychology and adolescents.pdf
Abstract from article:The purpose of this paper was to integrate literature on positive psychology and adolescent well-being to provide a cohesive platform for future research and discussion. It is aimed at researchers, and mental health and educational professionals who are interested in the empirical evidence behind using positive psychology interventions with adolescents. The positive psychology concepts reviewed are: the authentic happiness theory, flow, hope, coaching, gratitude, kindness, and strengths-based interventions. Although positive psychology is only in its infancy, and more research in adolescent populations is needed, support for positive psychology interventions in fostering adolescent mental health is steadily accumulating.
Norrish, J. M., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2009). Positive psychology and adolescents: Where are we now? Where to from here?.
, 44(4), 270-278. doi:10.1080/00050060902914103
life satisfaction of adolescents.pdf
Abstract from article: This study examined contextual and personality factors and their relation to perceived life satisfaction among adolescents in five sociocultural groups. Variations in the contribution of specific predictors were noted for the five groups, but no one factor accounted for a large amount of variance in any group. Among the most consistent predictors were marital status, self-efficacy beliefs, and adolescent health status. Somewhat surprisingly, neither the amount of family conflict, adolescent academic achievement, nor observed socioemotional support from parents was strongly correlated with life satisfaction. The effect of study variables on adolescent quality of life was dependent upon other variables in the analysis. For example, considerate behaviour on the part of the adolescent was suppressed by task-orientation.
Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2004). Life satisfaction among European American, African American, Chinese American, Mexican American, and Dominican American adolescents.
International Journal of Behavioral Development
, 28(5), 385-400. doi:10.1080/01650250444000072
happiness a structural theory.pdf
Abstract: Like all feeling states, happiness is an evolutionary adaptation, responding to the biological imperative to survive and reproduce. Unlike some feelings, it is complex, comprising a balanced combination of elements from each of the three mental structures initially hypothesized by Freud in 1923 and supported in recent years by neuroscientific research. A particular challenge to happiness posed by modern society is the problem of addiction. Addictions in the id, ego, and superego are defined, and therapeutic approaches to these and other obstacles to happiness are described
Goldwater, E. (2010). Happiness: a structural theory. In ,
(pp. 147-163). Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies. Retrieved from EBSCO
Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Shneider, B., & Shernoff, E. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory.
School Psychology Quarterly
, 18(2), 158-176.
This article discusses an experiment in which they look at high school students engagements in activities based on the ideas of the "flow" concept. The researchers looked at how the high school students spent their time and under what conditions (eg. group work and active learning processes) the students would engage in. This article also discusses the idea of "flow" in great detail. The three main factors, to determine engagement, the researchers looked into was concentration, interest, and enjoyment. Another important factor that relates to students ability to have high concentration, increased increase, and increased enjoyment was the way students perceived the level of challenge and the relevance material had to them.
(This would be good support for the younger sibling in regards to engagement)
Reinders, H., & Youniss, J. (2006). School-based required community service and civic development in adolescents.
Applied Developmental Science
, 10(1), 2-12.
This article is referenced in the text (McMahan, 2009) on page 489, "Research in the Spotlight." What the study has found is that if high school students engage in community service they are more likely later in life to engage in civic activities. The results also indicated that the direct interaction in community service during the high school years lead to an increase willingness to help strangers.
(This would be good support for suggesting to a younger sibling to engage in community service, linked to eudaimonia.)
From the textbook:__
-Community service involving interaction with people in a state of need increases self-awareness in adolescents and gives them a feeling of being actively involved; this leads to a more prosocial personality and readiness for civic engagement (Reinders & Youniss, 2006).
-Erikson's Psychosocial Crisis in Adolescence is Identity vs Role Confusion. During this time, adolescents are challenged with identifying who they are and who they want to be personally, socially, and occupationally. Forging an identity can help adolescents pursue happiness by determining what is meaningful, pleasurable, and engaging.
Surrounding yourself with positive and generally happy people can effect your own happiness.
Is Happiness Catching.htm
: In this article, the author explores the idea that happiness is contagious.
knowing someone who is happy, makes you 15.3% more likely to be happy
we need friends, but we also need to carefully pick friends that are happy and have healthy behaviors or we risk that their unhappiness and unhealthy behaviors will spread to us.
Happiness is contagious
. (2008). Retrieved from
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