The rediscovery of enjoyment

John Haworth writes.

It was good to see that Mihalyi Ciskszentmihalyi was featured in the article ‘Making a difference’ in The Psychologist (March 2017). His work on enjoyment, flow and happiness using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) has been very influential.

There is now considerable interest in the UK in happiness and wellbeing: a movement for happiness has been established (www.actionforhappiness.org); the Office of National Statistics is developing new measures of national wellbeing; a National What Works Wellbeing organisation has also been formed (www.whatworkswellbeing.org); and the Equality Trust has been established to promote a healthier, happier, more sustainable society through reducing economic inequality (www.equalitytrust.org.uk).

Steptoe et al. (2014), published research in the Canadian Medical Association Journal based on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The study showed that older people who enjoy life are also at lower risk for developing problems with activities of daily living, and for showing declines in physical function. There may be direct links with biological processes in the body that influence physical function. The authors conclude that their results provide further evidence that enjoyment of life is relevant to the future disability and mobility of older people; efforts to enhance wellbeing at older ages may have benefits to society and healthcare systems.

With colleagues at the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University significant research has been published over the years on enjoyment flow and subjective wellbeing using the ESM (e.g. Siddiquee et al., 2014). Currently, an interdisciplinary group at the University of Bolton are undertaking quantitative and qualitative research on happiness, including the role of enjoyment, which will be published in the forthcoming book edited by S. McHugh The Changing Nature of Happiness: An In-depth Study of a Town in North West England 1938–2014 (Palgrave Macmillan). [See also 'Looking back', May 2016]

Concern with the future of work, leisure and quality of life is once again internationally topical with increased life span, longer retirement, and predictions of diminishing work opportunities in an age of automation and robotics, (e.g. Carney, 2016). One response is a plea for a universal basic income regardless of employment, though critics have voiced concern about cost, political viability and the potential exploitation of workers by companies and citizens by government. It is more important than ever that psychologists along with others are involved in policy-oriented research into enjoyment, happiness and wellbeing.

John Haworth PhD
Visiting Professor in Well-being
University of Bolton

Illustration: Tim Sanders 


References
Carney, M. (2016). The spectre of monetarism. Roscoe Lecture. Liverpool John Moores University. Available via www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/default.aspx
Siddiquee, A., Sixsmith, J., Lawthom, R. & Haworth, J. (2014) Paid work, life-work and leisure: A study of well-being in the context of academic lives in higher education. Leisure Studies, 35(1), 36–45.
Steptoe, A., de Olivira, C., Demakakos, P. & Zaninotto, P. (2014) Enjoyment of life and declining physical function at older ages: A longitudinal study. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 186(4), E150–E156. doi:10.1503/cmaj.131155

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