Happiness in L2 Teaching: Terrors of Misconception and Virtues of Disciplinarity Reza Zabihi and Saeed Ketabi

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Happiness in L2 Teaching: Terrors of Misconception and Virtues of Disciplinarity
Reza Zabihi and Saeed Ketabi
Reza Zabihi holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics/TEFL from University of Isfahan, Iran. He is also a member of Iran’s National Elites Foundation (INEF) (since 2011). He has taught English courses for more than five years in different universities and language institutes in Iran. His major research interests include innovation in language teaching/learning, syllabus design, positive psychology, happiness studies, and life skills education. He has published 43 research articles in his areas of interest in local and international journals, and has served on the editorial and reviewer boards of five international journals, affiliation: University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran.

E-mail: zabihi@hotmail.com

Saeed Ketabi is an Associate Professor in TEFL at English Department, Faculty of Foreign Languages, university of Isfahan, Iran. His main areas of research are teaching methodology and curriculum development, affiliation: University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran.

E-mail: ketabi@fgn.ui.ac.ir




A triple-barreled problem

Definitional confusion

Fallacy of interchangeability

Empirical Inexactitude

Happiness and the virtues of disciplinarity: English education in focus

Concluding remarks

Positive psychology, a value-enhancing branch of psychology, has denounced the ‘disease psychology’ orientation which was popular prior to the 21st century; on the contrary, positive psychologists have recently focused their attention on individuals’ positive functioning as well as their significant skills and competencies. Among the many positive states typically researched within the positive psychology movement, happiness has gained a unique stance. However, following its introduction, happiness has spawned a cornucopia of conceptualizations founded not only on ethical, philosophical and psychological grounds, but also on the works of sociologists, economists, and politicians, causing definitional, terminological and empirical confusion. In this paper we pose a triple-barreled problem that relates to current happiness conceptualizations and practices—which we shall refer to as ‘definitional confusion’, ‘fallacy of interchangeability’, and ‘empirical inexactitude’. Further, we offer ‘Disciplinarity’ as a way to solve such a triple-barreled problem, and accordingly, take the field of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) as a striking example where a pedagogy of happiness can be adopted.

Throughout history, many people have wondered about what ‘quality of life’ actually entails and how it can be enhanced. Over the last two decades, the subject has loomed large in the literature of social sciences, under labels such as well-being (Kahneman, Diener, & Schwarz, 1999), flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997) and happiness (Veenhoven, 2000). In parallel to this interest, the paradigm of positive psychology—a projection of Carl Rogers’ (1965) and Abraham Maslow’s (1971) humanistic psychology—has come to the scene to complement the traditional psychopathology-centered approach in psychology and to place a heavy emphasis on positive human functioning and on nurturing individuals’ strengths, virtues and competencies rather than merely treating their mental illnesses (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). The ideas emanated from positive psychology were construed as an antidote to the traditional ‘disease psychology’ perspective which has begun since the start of World War II.
In effect, positive psychologists maintain that quality of life is far greater than the mere absence of disease symptoms (Huebner & Gilman, 2003). Given this positive shift of attitude in psychology from its traditional emphasis on pathology and mental illness to positive emotions, virtues, competencies and strengths, positive psychology has received well-deserved attention from a broad range of applied psychological disciplines such as counseling psychology (Linley, 2006), clinical psychology (Duckworth, Steen, & Seligman, 2005), occupational health psychology (Bakker, Rodriguez-Munoz, & Derks, 2012), school psychology (Miller & Nickerson, 2007), and educational psychology (Huitt, 2010).
Among the many subjects studied and researched within the positive psychology movement (e.g., psychological health, wisdom, giftedness, creativity and so on), happiness has gained a unique stance (Carr, 2004). There is a substantial literature on how the construct of happiness is conceived. For instance, Tatarkiewicz (1976) construes happiness as a “lasting, complete and justified satisfaction with life as a whole” (p. 16). Diener (1984) views happiness as one’s cognitive and affective appraisal of his or her own life. The World Health Organization (WHO) associates happiness with health and quality of life. Lyubomirsky and Lepper (1999) highlight the global measurement of whether one is a happy or unhappy person—subjective happiness. Pavot and Diener (1993) conceptualize happiness as a conglomeration of cognitive appraisal of life, positive affect and negative affect. Veenhoven (2000) conceives of happiness as the extent to which a person enjoys life, or the degree to which the judgment that he or she makes of his or her quality of life is favorable. Happiness, in these senses, has therefore been referred to as ‘subjective well-being’ in scientific parlance, considering its relevance to how people evaluate their own lives and what is most important to them. A more recent conceptualization of happiness pertains to Seligman’s (2002) three-component model which blends experience of positive emotions, engagement in life activities, and achievement of a sense of purpose or meaning in life.
Philosophically, while hedonists like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill tended to reduce happiness to ‘pleasure and the absence of pain’, Aristotle construed happiness as the fulfillment of one’s true nature, pointing to the fact that individuals are happiest when they make full use of their cognitive capacities. Happiness, in this latter sense, is more in line with the current perception of the term, as Scoffham and Barnes (2011) have recently defined happiness as “a positive force which enriches our sense of meaning, enhances our capabilities and enlarges the scope of our thinking” (p. 547). Overall, although the pursuit of happiness has a long pedigree (dating back to ancient Greek philosophers), its study within the positive psychology movement is a somewhat new enterprise. In this paper we put forth our problematization of current conceptualizations and practices in happiness research.
A triple-barreled problem
Following its introduction, happiness has spawned a cornucopia of conceptualizations founded not only on ethical, philosophical and psychological grounds, but also on the works of sociologists, economists, and politicians. In this section we pose a triple-barreled problem that relates to current happiness conceptualizations and practices. We shall refer to the three sides of the problem as ‘definitional confusion’, ‘fallacy of interchangeability’, and ‘empirical inexactitude’ (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A triple-barreled problem with happiness conceptualizations
Definitional confusion
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the proliferation of theory and research on happiness, sadly, these attempts have often been confounded by a lack of unanimity regarding the definition of happiness. Hence, the first point we shall problematize regarding happiness conceptualizations is that the term ‘happiness’ has multiple meanings, and there is little unanimity in literature regarding the true nature of happiness. Every person seems to have his or her own view of happiness and, to further complicate matters, everyone seems entitled to it. This is neatly captured by Haybron’s (2003) statement that “settling questions about the nature of happiness probably strikes more than a few philosophers as an exercise in futility. There may be no question philosophers enjoy hearing less than ‘What do you mean by happiness’?” (p. 305). As we go further into the literature of happiness we see that, at best, the term becomes increasingly difficult to conceptualize.
Fallacy of interchangeability
In the presence of increasing emphases on stipulating the construct of happiness, a considerable body of research has unfavorably used the notion of happiness synonymously with other terminology such as welfare (Sumner, 1996), well-being (Griffin, 1986), subjective well-being (SWB) (Ivens, 2007), long-term positive mood trait (Seidlitz & Diener, 1993), and health and quality of life (World Health Organization, 1946-1992). Sometimes, the notion of life satisfaction has been used as an alternative for happiness (Proctor, Linley, & Maltby, 2009).
These are perhaps best summarized in Easterlin’s (2005) statement that ‘‘the terms well-being, utility, happiness, life satisfaction, and welfare [are] interchangeable…’’ (p. 29). In accordance with these interpretations, some people have put forth models of happiness (e.g., Diener, 2000; Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999; Seligman, 2002); yet even these models have taken a holistic approach and have described happiness broadly to refer to individuals’ positive subjective experiences (Schiffrin & Nelson, 2010) which, we believe, essentially boils down to an ancient hedonic philosophy, associating happiness with mere pleasure or avoiding from something unpleasant.

Empirical inexactitude
Amidst an increasing concern over terminological confusion regarding happiness conceptualizations, a variety of techniques have been used to assess the construct. In many of the major national surveys single questions are used to measure happiness. These questions are framed in different ways such as ‘How happy are you now?’; ‘How satisfied are you with your life?’; ‘How do you feel about your life as a whole?’ Usually respondents are given a number of possible answers to choose from on 5-, 7- or 10-point scales. Fordyce (1988) developed a two-item happiness measure: (1) ‘In general how happy or unhappy do you feel?’ (with a 10-point response format from 10=feeling ecstatic, joyous, fantastic to 0=utterly depressed, completely down); (2) ‘On average what percentage of the time do you feel happy (or unhappy or neutral)?’ More sophisticated multi-item scales with good reliability and validity have also been used in recent research. As one case in point, the 29-item Revised Oxford Happiness Scale (Argyle, 2001) has been widely used in the UK.
However, a number of scales such as Diener et al.’s (1985) Satisfaction with Life Scale and Watson et al.’s (1988) Positive-Negative Affect Scale have been developed to be alternatively used in lieu of a relevant measure of happiness. Under this account, it is barely startling to find a consensual opinion as to what instruments should be utilized for measuring happiness. To make matters worse, it seems to us that the invention of one’s own scale of happiness has become more of an epidemic. To give but one example, in the year 2012, the Australian Centre on Quality of Life (ACQOL) presented a burgeoning number of scales that, in one way or another, purported to measure happiness but in actuality these seemed to have loosened the conceptual and empirical hold of research on happiness by measuring quite different constructs and presenting mixed psychometric properties. This is a reasonable concern given the empirical evidence (Demir, 2010) showing that the relation of happiness to other variables is likely to vacillate depending on the way happiness is measured.

Happiness and the virtues of disciplinarity: English education in focus
One possible way to solve this conundrum would reasonably be to look at the happiness construct from a disciplinary perspective; that is to say, in order to come up with a sound model for teaching happiness, one should take several models of happiness and test them against the specific features of the particular discipline in which what we call ‘a pedagogy of happiness’ is going to be enacted. For example, within the area of English language pedagogy, Professor Marc Helgesen has recently attempted to create a link between TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Positive Psychology (or what he tends to call ‘the science of happiness’). He has accordingly designed several activities that purport to combine positive psychology with supposedly clear language goals. Yet what are missing in his works seem to be a sound theoretical foundation for the adoption of a particular theory of happiness in TESOL and an empirical justification as to the effectiveness of linking happiness studies to L2 teaching materials.
Here, we take the field of TESOL as a good example where a happiness pedagogy can be incorporated. Quite in line with the notions of Applied ELT (Pishghadam, 2011) and Life Syllabus (Pishghadam & Zabihi, 2012) which point to the fact that English teaching classes are proper sites for the implementation of life skills education, it is our hypothesis that TESOL’s field-specific features, drawn from well-established L2 research findings, can smooth the way for the enrichment of the three criteria of authentic happiness through the design and implementation of appropriate happiness-increase programs. In fact, hopefully, Zabihi, Ketabi, and Tavakoli (2013) has brought to light those areas where positive psychology and positive education seem to be mostly relevant to ESL/EFL (English as a Second/Foreign Language) environments to assist in the development of high levels of happiness in learners.
More specifically, they have taken Seligman’s (2002) model of authentic happiness that unites Pleasure, Engagement and Meaning, and have discussed the ways in which this model suits best for the incorporation of a pedagogy of happiness in L2 teaching contexts. They put forth their argument that TESOL’s field-specific features match the three sub-components of authentic happiness, making them firmly advocate the inclusion of happiness components, in terms of enriched language tasks, into different L2 teaching syllabi. Figure 2 summarizes their three arguments for the possibility of meeting the three criteria of authentic happiness (pleasant life, engaged life, and meaningful life) in L2 learning environments.

Figure 2. A conceptual pathway for reaching happiness in TESOL
As can be seen in Figure 2, the Pleasure component of happiness is covered by the humorous and enjoyable atmosphere for learning that most English learning environments have, and a variety of routine life activities that are performed in such contexts; the Engagement component of happiness is taken care of by the flow experiences that most English learning contexts can create in learners, as well as a variety of topics for in-class discussion alongside the freedom of expression and the new identities that second/foreign language learners take on; finally, the Meaning component of happiness is captured by the pair/group work activities and the socially-constructed knowledge that are the cornerstones of ESL/EFL environments.
Concluding remarks
We believe this triple-barreled problem with happiness conceptualizations and practices is the major factor that impedes systematized understanding in the area of happiness research. This begs the question how is it that the proposed models of happiness can be applied to different areas and subdisciplines within psychology whereas the nature of happiness, in general, is still an enigma to many people. Considering the large number of propositions for the conceptualization of happiness and the so-called interchangeability of happiness with other similar nomenclature make each one of these theories particularly tempting to adopt.
Nonetheless, it seems to us that in our attempts to comply with one theory, while leaving other theories behind, we will ultimately find ourselves mired in definitional, terminological, and empirical confusion. The problem of happiness conceptualizations thus lies in the fact that we are incapable of establishing adequate criteria to clearly distinguish a rigorous model of happiness from a weak one. Therefore, as we have discussed above, in order to come up with a sound model for teaching happiness, other researchers should take several models of happiness and test them against the specific features of the particular discipline in which ‘a pedagogy of happiness’ is going to be enacted.
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