What we see if we look at all of these approaches to well being, side-by-side, is how amazingly consistent they are. We basically have six things:
- Valued action
- Openness to feeling
- Life narrative
Ok, So I Hated Titling this Post Anything “Happiness”
In truth it’s really about “well being” — in fact, the original title was “Do Major Theories of Well Being Have Any Overlap?”
Happiness tends to be looked at as positive emotion — a feeling of happiness, which now, in Second Wave Positive Psychology and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we find to be problematic as a pursuit. Pursuing positive feelings or thinking positive all the time doesn’t work in reality. They now even have a name for it, “The tyranny of the positive,” and caution that it is to be avoided.
In reality, what most people want is a sort of contentedness, a well being that comes from the above six things — which include being open to “negative” feelings like sadness, loneliness, frustration, and so on.
So, by happiness I really meant the well being that comes from living your values and having quality relationships… and having a healthy acceptance of all human emotions.
Ultimately, though, “well being” doesn’t sound very sexy. I think when people read about happiness, what they are really looking for, though, is that long term well being.
A few notes:
On Positive Psychology:
People who are familiar with PERMA (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement) will notice that the “P” is missing from above. That is deliberate, given that Second Wave Positive Psychology has noted that pursuing positive emotion can be problematic. That “embracing the dark side of life” often leads to better well being and better life outcomes than pursuing positive thinking or positive emotion. Likewise, Aristotle noted the same thing in comparing hedonic well being vs. eudaimonic well being. And similarly, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy notes that an inability to be with unwanted thoughts and feelings can lead to serious problems.
I think engagement — using your character strengths and developed skills in something that matches or at the edge or your ability level, creating a “flow” state, is a really unique and cool element of valued action that doesn’t show up anyplace else. I’m still not sure, in the above table, if I should lump it in with meaning or with achievement, or if it would be worth separating completely on it’s own.
On Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:
You’ll notice that this is not exactly the ACT Hexaflex (acceptance, defusion, being present, self-as-context, values, and committed action). Instead, this is adapted from a webinar that Steve Hayes gave in June 2017, ACT at the Cutting Edge, where he broke down 6 psychological yearnings (coherence, orientation, being present, meaning, competence, and belonging). This is adapted from my interpretation of that webinar. In that webinar, Dr. Hayes noted that three of the yearnings mapped perfectly on to Self-Determination Theory’s 3 basic psychological needs. He also talked about how these six yearnings map on to the six core processes of ACT, but that’s a huge topic that I’ll leave to him.
On Aristotelian Eudaimonia:
I admit I’m probably overreaching my education to try to simplify Aristotle’s philosophy on eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία is essentially greek for “well being,” though sometimes it’s translated as “happiness”). I’m working mostly off of his Nichomechian Ethics here. I hope you guys bear with me as I’ll probably be studying this for the rest of my life, and I may update my summary over time.
For those that note that the common translation is “virtue,” I think that Aristotle uses the word not only in terms of moral virtues (as we tend to think of the word) but also in the other translation of the word ἀρετή, which is “excellence.” He often talks of excellence in skills and habits.
For those that would note that the literal translation of Aristotle’s second best life is “politician,” I think it’s fairly clear that Aristotle’s idea of “politics” was to make a positive difference for your city (polis/πόλις).
Also, it could be noted that Aristotle’s “best life” was to be a philosopher, and that to make a difference for your city would be the “second best life.” I’m going with the second best life, as it’s a.) More practical for most of us, and b.) Then becomes totally consistent with Positive Psychology, ACT, and Self-Determination Theory.
On Self-Determination Theory:
Self-Determination Theory ends up being the leanest of the theories covered, with only three elements. I think, in many ways, this is it’s strength.
SDT has been extensively researched as being the preeminent theory of intrinsic motivation. What’s really amazing, is that mostly they’re looking at basic psychological needs — things we need for well being. And that they’ve found that when we have well being, we “motivate” ourselves. But that, at it’s core, it’s actually about well being. And we have 35 years of research that increased autonomy, competence, and belonging, increases well being.
What Does Any of This Have to Do With Weight Loss?
Well, with Self-Determination Theory, we have 30+ years of research that the three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) lead to intrinsic motivation — the kind of long term, persistent motivation that is able to weather hard and easy times, good and bad feelings, and propel people to become better versions of themselves.
With Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, there are a few really, really cool studies using the ACT core processes to create sustainable weight loss. In the first Mind Your Health study (2013), it seemed to be especially effective for people who have dealt with emotional eating (eating to cope with unwanted thoughts and feelings) and/or food reactivity (as in you see food and immediately want to eat it), in the second Mind Your Health Study (2016), they were able to really broaden it’s scope, and it was really effective for everyone.
For Positive Psychology and Aristotelian Eudaimonia, I just thought it was awesome that they were so consistent with ACT and SDT.
Ultimately, I think we all just want to live good lives and be our best versions of ourselves. Fitness and weight management can be a really important part of that — if we have energy and feel good in our bodies, we might be able to do more of the things below, the things that really truly make our lives better.
Taking the things above and making them more actionable:
- Clarifying our values and what matters to us
- Taking actions that align with what matters to us
- Fostering quality relationships
- Being mindful and present in the moment
- Being open to all the feelings that are part of life, “good” and “bad”
- Making sense of our life as a narrative with obstacles and opportunities, failures and successes, different choices, and many important learning experiences
This Wasn’t The Next Most Obvious Fat Loss Post
I get really reflective before the New Year, and this was something I wrote for myself. I’ve been trying to make sense of what I’ve been studying — both in going back to school for psychology, and in some history and philosophy I’ve been dabbling in on the side.
If I get a lot wrong, I intend to develop this more over the next decade I’ll probably be in school =) But I think, working off of some legit major theories, it can’t be too far off — only my interpretation of them could be flawed.
I might add references later, or I might leave this one as is. Often, I’ll write a thing just so I have a starting place to re-write it from, again, next year and the year after. This is basically a first draft.
by Josh Hillis
Josh is both Chief People Officer and a coach for One by One Nutrition.
He is currently going back to school for psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
He struggles through Aristotle on his own time.