Where does happiness sit on the coaching client’s agenda?

The remarkable thing about coaching clients putting happiness as a goal is that it is remarkable. The absence of happiness is hard to admit to ourselves or to others. It’s common to feel guilty about not being happy. So, the topic may not arise in coaching unless the coach’s intuition takes them there.

There are many aspects to being happy and the following questions capture some of them:

  • Are you happy generally?
  • Are you happy with your work?
  • Are you happy with your domestic circumstances and relationships?
  • Are you happy with how you are growing as a person?
  • Are you happy with how you see your life and career developing over the coming years?
  • Are you happy with our sense of identity?
  • Are you happy with your work-life balance?
  • Are you happy with your sense of physical well-being?
  • Are you happy with your sense of purpose?

Recent research indicates that our sense of happiness is related to our expectations about what causes happiness – in particular, our beliefs around whether happiness is best created in the moment or by achieving longer term goals. Unhappiness may be associated with a sense of lack of progress towards goals we think will bring happiness when (or if only) we achieve them. Rumination on not achieving circumstances that we think will make us happier can trigger serious side effects, such as clinical depression.

As with so many other aspects of human psychology, it seems that balance is key. Too much or too little focus on future happiness goals, or equally on short term happiness, is dysfunctional. A coach may do more harm than good, if they simply accept the client’s bias and perceptions, rather than challenge them to a more balanced perspective. Useful questions here include:

  • How can you reward yourself in the here and now, while not losing sight of your long-term goals?
  • What small things can you find pleasure in, when you feel you are stagnating on achieving longer term happiness?
  • What can you allow yourself to feel contentment about?

The German word Schadenfreude (taking pleasure from someone else’s misfortune) is more widely known than its counterpoint, Freudenfreude, which means taking pleasure in someone else’s good fortune or success. Coaching can help a client step outside their self-rumination and find pleasure in someone else’s situation. Unhappiness is to a significant extent a self-centred emotion. Helping the client shift attention towards helping someone else become happier is a stepping stone to lightening the spirit and discovering sources of happiness that were previously hidden.

It can be argued that helping a clint achieve a balanced perspective on happiness is central to goal management in coaching. After all, what is the point of pursuing a goal – or indeed achieving it – if it doesn’t make you happy?

© David Clutterbuck 2023




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