Should We Fix the Bad or Focus on the Good?

Is the glass half-empty or is it half-full?

This cliched question has had minds thinking and debating…

What’s the better approach for happiness and well-being and success: fixing the issue (filling up the emptiness) or focusing on what we have (appreciating what is partially filled)?

Research published in the journal of Health and Quality of Life Outcomes (June 2020) shows that the answer isn’t as straight-forward as anyone would like it to be.

The Research

In order to answer this question, researchers held a randomized, controlled trial and cost-effectiveness analysis of two counseling methods: 1) a problems-based approach, and 2) a happiness-based approach called the “Happiness Route”.

They did the study with vulnerable populations, meaning those who were experiencing loneliness, health problems, and low socio-economic status. There were 108 participants in total, with 58 participating in the Happiness Route and 50 participants receiving the problems-based approach to counseling.

Each group received several home visits by a counselor and the researchers measured how each method affected the participants’ well-being. Well-being outcomes were measured with a professional standard called the Mental Health Continuum-Short Form (MHC-SF).

What did the research say?

All participants showed significant improvement over a 9-month period.

That’s great! We should all adopt the happiness route!

Wait. Two issues remain.

1. They did not become more happy as the study went on.

For both methods, the outcomes did not improve over time. This means both methods did not help them to become happier as they received more treatment. Rather, they stayed relatively the same at the end of the last sessions as they were in the first session.

Is this an effective method at making people happier? Yes, and no.

It did make people happier overall. But is it a method that can continue to make them more and more happy? Perhaps not.

2. Focusing on happiness did not make them more happy than focusing on solving problems.

The study concludes that both routes led to happiness, but failed to show if the Happiness Route was better or not.

Although we would like research to give us a clear answer so that we can say, ‘yessir’ and run out to apply it to our own lives, the reality of research is that it can often be inconclusive. The search continues.