The development and evaluation of positive psychological interventions aimed at happiness
Van Zyl, Llewellyn Ellardus
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One of the great challenges for positive psychology is that academics, researchers and authors are yet to reach agreement on the terminology, constructs and methodology of the various positive psychological concepts and interventions. One such concept that has been ambiguously and often inconsistently conceptualised is happiness. Interventions that are structured around these conceptualisations have produced mixed results, which are attributable to various aspects such as the unidimensional conceptualisation of the concept, inconsistent measurement, psychometric measuring instruments that have not been validated for the population in question, and fragmented intervention methodologies. Research was, therefore, needed regarding happiness and the development of interventions aimed at increasing happiness. Therefore, this thesis aimed to investigate the concept, manifestation, measurement and development of happiness and positive psychological interventions (PPIs) within a tertiary educational environment. A mixed method research approach was followed to reach the research objectives. The first study aimed to examine the psychometric properties of positive psychological assessment measures, and to determine the relationship between flourishing and academic performance within a tertiary educational institution. A quantitative cross-sectional survey design was used to address this objective. The Mental Health Continuum Long Form, Positive and Negative Affect Scale and Satisfaction with Life Scale were administered and indicated acceptable levels of internal consistency. The MHC-LF would need to be adapted for future studies within the tertiary educational environment. No significant correlations could be established between academic performance and flourishing. However, cross-tabulation indicated some evidence of the impact that flourishing/languishing had on academic performance. Individuals with moderate levels of flourishing typically performed in the „above average‟ to „excelling academically‟ range. Languishing individuals performed at the lower levels of the academic performance spectrum. The results indicated that a large number of individuals within this tertiary educational environment were languishing. Flourishing students experienced higher levels of positive affect and satisfaction with life, as well as lower levels of negative affect than their languishing and moderately flourishing counterparts. The second study aimed to investigate the main streams of research on happiness, the approaches/models flowing from these philosophies and the methodology of happiness interventions. A quantitative meta-analysis of the literature was used to address the aforementioned research objective. Seeing that the literature presents with such incongruent findings regarding the effectiveness of PPIs, research was needed to establish how happiness should be conceptualised, which moderating factors should be addressed in this conceptualisation, and what the content of PPIs should be. A qualitative meta-analysis of the literature indicated that happiness is approached from either a hedonic, eudaimonic or integrated approach. These philosophies gave birth to a stream of scientific literature regarding happiness and its various conceptualisations, namely (a) Subjective well-being; (b) Hedonic well-being; (c) Eudaimonic well-being; (d) Psychological well-being; (e) Flourishing, and (f) Authentic happiness. Furthermore, the results highlighted three causes for failing interventions: (a) unidimensional models/approaches towards happiness, (b) targeting the concept of happiness instead of the mediating factors; and (c) fragmented methodological interventions. The study suggested a multidimensional model for happiness and happiness interventions. Furthermore, the study proposed a multifaceted methodology for happiness interventions, comprising self-administered intentional activities, group-administered interventions and individual coaching. The third study aimed to evaluate a PPI aimed at increasing happiness of students in a tertiary educational institution. A longitudinal pre-experimental research design was used to address the aforementioned research objective. Qualitative data were used to explore the findings further. The results indicated that the overall happiness of a student may be increased through developing individuals on both an emotional and psychological level. The results showed some scientific merit to a multifaceted approach towards PPIs. The PPI affected all the aspects conceptualised in this study except for two components of authenticity, namely authentic behaviour and relational orientations.