Last updated on 4th January 2009
So here's a blast from the past ... that could be fun and useful for a New Year's resolution. I first came across Michael Fordyce's research year's ago (Fordyce 1977; Fordyce 1983). It was probably the first serious scientific exploration of how to help people become happier that I'd ever read. The approach involves a training called the "Fourteen Fundamentals". These are fourteen characteristics of happy people, extracted from research, that Fordyce argued most people could develop for themselves. The "Fundamentals" are: 1.) Be more active and keep busy. 2.) Spend more time socializing. 3.) Be productive at meaningful work. 4.) Get better organized and plan things out. 5.) Stop worrying. 6.) Lower your expectations and aspirations. 7.) Develop positive optimistic thinking. 8.) Get present orientated. 9.) WOAHP - work on a healthy personality. 10.) Develop an outgoing, social personality. 11.) Be yourself. 12.) Eliminate negative feelings and problems. 13.) Close relationships are the #1 source of happiness. 14.) VALHAP (value happiness) - the "secret fundamental".
What raised these ideas above the typical self-improvement literature was that the Fundamentals had emerged from a series of surveys trying to clarify what distinguished happy and unhappy people. Obviously many of the suggestions are mountains it would be hard to climb. However, we can change enough to make very worthwhile improvements to our happiness. Fordyce tested this out in a series of research studies and ... bingo ... students taking the programme showed significant boosts in happiness compared to various control groups. Gains still seemed present at 9 to 18 months follow-up. Encouraging!
Most of the teaching material and research is freely available on Fordyce's website (Fordyce, 2008). One good initial resource is a 21 page booklet introducing the 14 Fundamentals. There is also a somewhat clunky (produced in 1990) video telecourse consisting of 14 programs, each about 50 to 60 minutes in length. Fordyce's ideas compare pretty well with more recent research-based happiness advice - see, for example, Sonja Lyubomirsky's work. It's very interesting too that later researchers (Smith, Compton et al. 1995) showed that adding meditation practice to the Fourteen Fundamentals programme further enhanced happiness gains - linking with last month's research by Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues.
What an ideal New Year's resolution - to be happier, and to follow a programme that is very likely to help you achieve exactly that. And with the addition of a meditation practice, gains will probably be even greater!
Fordyce, M. W. (1977). "Development of a program to increase personal happiness." Journal of Counseling Psychology 24(6): 511-521. [Free Full Text]
Fordyce, M. W. (1983). "A program to increase happiness: further studies." Journal of Counseling Psychology 30(4): 483-498. [Free Full Text]
Fordyce, M.W. (2008) "Happiness research website" at http://www.gethappy.net/ accessed December 28.
Smith, W. P., W. C. Compton, et al. (1995). "Meditation as an adjunct to a happiness enhancement program." J Clin Psychol 51(2): 269-73. [PubMed]