The scientific model for finding true happiness

The CEO of The Happiness Hub tells Vision that positive psychology will help you achieve the best version of yourself on International Day of Happiness 

How can I help people to become their best selves? This was the question that led clinical psychologist Fiona Barron to establish The Happiness Hub with business partner Saleem Ali, “a business that focuses on developing engaging, approachable, community-driven experiences in the positive aspects of our lives”.

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Saleem Ali co-founded the business that "focuses on developing engaging, approachable, community-driven experiences”

Barron has always been fascinated with human behaviour; how and why people behave in the way they do, she says. “Applying that understanding to my own life, even before a formal education in clinical psychology, helped me appreciate just how large an impact self- and social-awareness can have on us. It influences so many different aspects of our lives that it still surprises me at times.”

As Dubai celebrates the International Day of Happiness on March 20, Barron explains the philosophy behind the model and why true happiness comes from our experiences of purpose, challenge and growth.

What inspired you to become a clinical psychologist, and then to specifically focus on the Happiness Hub?

My studies gave me the framework to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’, as well as the ‘what’. It gave me perspective on the causes of our mental weaknesses and how to help people overcome the stress, depression and anxiety that we all struggle with at times.

But it also gave me a keen understanding of just how straightforward it can be for people to achieve a sense of contentment that evades most of us. Put simply, how easy it can be to achieve happiness.

Positive psychology was the cornerstone of that simplicity for me. Traditional psychology tends to be reactive – it focuses on our weaknesses in order to help us overcome them. The draw of positive psychology is that, rather than taking a reactive approach and waiting for problems to manifest themselves, it instead looks at how we can best develop our strengths. That proactivity, and its relative simplicity, was what drew me to it.

The Global Happiness Dialogue in Dubai has genetic and neurological baselines for happiness – to what extent is our happiness pre-determined?  

Would you believe me if I said it was 50/50?

A professor at The University of California, Sonja Lyubomirsky, conducted a study looking at exactly that question.

What she found was that roughly 50 per cent of our happiness is genetically pre-determined. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal we can do to influence that part, even though a more recent study in 2016 managed to identify the parts of the human genome responsible for how we experience happiness.

Our opportunity for change rests with the other 50 per cent. Lyubomirsky’s study found that there were two key factors here; 10 per cent was due to our life circumstances and the other 40 per cent was the result of our personal outlook. Two things that we can certainly influence ourselves.

No one should be happy all the time – that’s actually a clinical disorder! What we can do however, is influence both our understanding of what happiness is and our ability to effectively deal with the highs and lows of day-to-day life. Given that baseline, a clear majority of people can achieve a sense of fulfilment with their lives.

What does your brand of happiness actually mean?

Our model is heavily influenced by the idea that while pleasure and happiness can often be linked to one another, they aren’t the same thing. True happiness comes from our experiences of purpose, challenge and growth. The tools we’ve developed are founded in positive psychology and increase our awareness of and ability to manage those experiences; all in a creative, dynamic and engaging manner.

We’ve combined that desire for engagement with the very subjective nature of happiness itself. If we accept that happiness means different things to different people, then the tools that help us to develop in our personal or professional lives need to be similarly flexible. We need to be able to explore what happiness means to us, as individuals.

The Happiness Festival was our introduction to that concept, giving attendees the opportunity to build their own agenda, with over 90 unique experiences in a single day. It was built around the PERMA model, which embodies the five core components of happiness and fulfilment; positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. The festival includes a mixture of drop in and scheduled sessions that covered everything from fitness, nutrition, yoga and meditation to job crafting, effective communication and the impact of music on mood. 

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The Happiness Hub "provides people with proven tools to identify, define and influence the most important areas of change in their lives"

That same concept is at the core of The Happiness Network, that we’re just about to launch. It will give members access to over 30 workshops across the year, providing tools and methods to improve our lives with topics in positivity, relationships, mindfulness, creativity, work and family. Each workshop will provide practical toolkits to help people on that journey towards turning one-off experiences into the daily habits that will drive enhance happiness.