Boost your happiness by 40%- Interview with Paul Pahil

Paul Pahil
The founder of Budapest's Happiness Week 2014 - 2017

1. When did you choose to leave London and to live in Hungary?

I arrived in the summer of 2004 and decided to set up Hungry 4 Learning Ltd. I wanted to introduce the scientific practices of ’positive psychology’. I moved to Budapest because I realized there are many talented people in the city though there is strong environment of low resilience and high pessimism. 

Pessimistic people are eight times more likely to become depressed when bad events happen. Over time, depressed people learn to be helpless and exert little control in what happens in their lives. Hence I wanted to use positive psychology interventions to make people more resilient and flourish. There is a low level of flourishing in the whole region and only 8% of all Hungarians are actually flourishing. People who experience flourishing are more creative and productive. People who are flourishing enjoy better lives and can live up to nine years longer. 

When more people flourish, society gains through reduced mental illness, reduced suicidality reduced premature mortality and better functioning. The focus of our work is on well-being which directly improves creativity, health, performance, customer satisfaction and supportive relationships.
We can only flourish and mobilise others when the conditions in the environment are optimal. 

The essence for me is to collaborate with others to create value for our new environments. This was the inspiration behind creating Budapest’s Happiness Week, which has run for 3 consecutive years, so everyone interested in developing their well-being could participate for free. We plan the next Budapest’s Happiness Week during 10-16th of September, 2017.

2. What really is Positive Psychology? It is something fashionable?

Positive Psychology was developed by world famous psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the year of 2000. They wanted to counter-balance the focus of psychology on pathology or what’s wrong with people. They do not advocate a simple switch to focus only on what is right but simply to get back to a balanced analysis of people and situations.
Positive psychology has caught the attention of the world as it is an empirically-based discipline that, for the past two decades, has been researching and developing techniques for optimal human functioning for individuals, teams and organisations.

Paul Pahil with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The main focus of positive psychology is for people to flourish and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing. Flourishing rests on five pillars, each of which we value for its own sake, not merely as a means to some other end. The five elements are positive emotions, engagement, supportive relationships, meaning and the need to achieve. These elements, which we choose for their own sake in our efforts to flourish, are the rock-bottom fundamentals to human well-being. What is the good life? It is pleasant, engaged, meaningful, achieving, and being connected.

3. Is a difference between Positive Psychology and positive thinking?

Yes, there is a huge difference as positive psychology is a science and has gained vast amounts of research funding are attractive to corporate donars who see them as providing a competitive edge. Topics such as peak performance, resilience, creativity are very attractive in the field of industry and commerce to gather data about positive human functioning. For example according to MihályCsíkszentmihályi’s leading research the more challenging, flow-inducing activities we can introduce into our lives, the more creative and motivated we are.

Positive Psychology does not ignore the negative though it calls upon us to make a fundamental mind-shift. It knows from recent neuroscience research that our brains are wired to focus mostly on the negative; what’s wrong with a situation or people. This made sense in the vast period of human history when it was critical to notice a wild animal about to eat you. Whereas in the last 20 years it is not adaptive to focus largely on the negative as a wild animal is less likely to eat us and what is instead now required in the workplace are emotional intelligence and creativity. But our brains have not yet caught up. So positive psychology as a science can add great benefit by ensuring people redress the balance and take into account what is wrong with themselves and their teams but also engage more productively with themselves and others with what is right with them.

4. What specific tools does the science of positive psychology offer?

Everyone motivation is unique and we need to discover what cultivates genuine and heartfelt positivity for you. Everybody is different when it comes to the optimal conditions that trigger positive emotions. This means that your own path to flourishing will be unique. Selecting the most personalised strategies increases the chances that you will succeed. For example, expressing gratitude could be effective for you in decreasing your stress and increasing your self-worth and strengthening your existing relationships.

We all have a genetic happiness set point that accounts for 50% of our happiness, 10% of our happiness comes from our life's circumstances, like where we live, what car we drive, how much money we make, etc. The remaining 40% rests in how we choose to be happy everyday (i.e. our daily activities). These strategies focus on developing and refining the remaining 40%.

Once you find one strategy that fits your current position you tend to find other complementary activities to boost your 40% of your happiness which is within your power to change. You can select from activities that best match your personality, resources, goals and needs. Each of the activities is presented with empirical evidence of its efficacy and suggestions for related activities that might also fit. 

These activities represent habits rather than goals, and as such, are something one could practice most days. For example, savouring the moment is very different than being in flow. Being engaged in flow is being fully immersed in the moment, whereas savouring involves stepping out of the moment to fully appreciate it. 

 The answer to becoming happier and flourishing is a diverse matter which may be worth pursuing.

5. I invited you in Bucharest to speak about positive psychology. When are you planning to come? 

I will be in Bucharest on the weekend of June 3rd and 4rd.