The purpose of the present investigation was to research, develop, and evaluate a systematic and progressive positive psychology program that is founded on evidence based happiness enhancement strategies. A review of the literature revealed happiness comes primarily from developing: 1) Self-Awareness—the detection of our true natures, true selves, and true values. It also includes the development of emotional awareness or the recognition of emotions and the true causes of those emotions in self and others; 2) Acceptance—the view that we and the world are exactly the way we should be at any given moment, and happiness comes from accepting what we can about where we are while moving towards meaningful goals; 3) Life-enjoyment—the zest, humour, and flexibility we bring to everyday events; 4) Transcendence—the development of positive relationships in our lives and the recognition of the universal unity of being or the oceanic feeling that comes from knowing we are intimately connected to all things; 5) Perspective—the scientific truth that the things that happen to us are not nearly as important as how we choose to react to them; 6) Purpose—the notion that happiness comes mainly from finding meaning in life and 7) Psychic Energy—people who reach their natural capacities for happiness do not put their energy into mundane concerns, rather they find purpose by putting their efforts into three main things: work and meaningful engagement, love and relationships, and by developing perspective or the attitude they take towards unavoidable suffering.
Based on the research on happiness as well as the known psychological benefits of physical activity, the Physical Activity Based Happiness Enhancement Program was developed combining physical activity, meditation, and positive psychology in a comprehensive strategy that focuses on building happiness, rather than on eliminating anxiety and depression. The program was designed to help participants reach their natural capacities for happiness through two main approaches:
• Class-Based: Happiness Enhancement Weekend Workshop
• Field-Based: Walking/Running Meditation Maintenance Program.
The weekend workshop was designed to develop the psychological skills suggested in the literature to be utilized by happy people (i.e., what happy people know and do). The workshop contained lectures, practical individual and group exercises, group discussions, and multi-media.
The second major section was a Walking/Running Meditation Maintenance Program, which was designed to support and reinforce the information and techniques presented in the Happiness Enhancement Workshop. The literature suggests both physical activity and meditation have strong links to increased happiness. Since it has been shown that aerobic exercise often leads to the same mental characteristics as mindfulness (see Green, 1995), walking or running and meditation were combined to form a comprehensive mind-body maintenance exercise. The Walking/Running Meditation Program combined walking or running at any pace with a meditation three times each week for 13 weeks. Each week a new meditation and a new practical happiness enhancement task were introduced.
There were 17 (13 female, 4 male) participants who completed the program with an average age of 38 years. The intervention was associated with increased participant happiness (SWLS) and decreased depression, but there were no differences found on stress and anxiety measures (DASS-21). There were significant increases on the broad values of courage, humanity, justice, and temperance, but no differences on wisdom and knowledge or transcendence (VIA-Brief).
Significant increases were found on the individual strengths of bravery or courage, zest or enthusiasm, love or attachment, social intelligence or social skills, teamwork, forgiveness or mercy, appreciation of beauty and excellence or awe, and hope or optimism. There were no significant changes on the other individual strength sub-scales on the VIA-Brief.
The transformative learning responses showed evolution in the participants’ general definitions of happiness, their descriptions of self, feelings of connections with the majority of people, stated life-purposes, and the time taken for quiet contemplation, each in a way that was consistent with the objectives of the intervention. There is still much room for improvement as there was a tendency among participants to maintain some perspectives and beliefs that the research suggested were counterproductive to happiness. All program evaluation questions were found to be statistically significant on chi-squared tests in the desired direction. Participants perceived the program was well organized, catered, researched, presented, and included logical progressions between ideas, good practical exercises, useful learning materials, stimulating discussion, new and interesting information, accepting facilitators, a relaxed learning environment, and believed it was useful in increasing present happiness and would also be useful in increasing future happiness. The main objective of researching and creating a comprehensive happiness enhancement program for the observed population was achieved. After making the suggested program improvements, future studies are needed to address issues of a small sample size, lack of a control group, and to compare various populations and formulations of the program.