Q. How to change the world? A. Feel Good

“Positive Psychology: The scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive.”

After reviewing some of the literature in this field and reflecting on anecdotal evidence, it is becoming clearer to me that it is of utmost importance that each individual prioritizes their own well-being in order to ensure the optimal functioning of society.

I’ve been astounded by some of the findings in the Positive Psychology research and the implications on personal health and well-being. Reading this research has reaffirmed my interest in understanding how we can actively cultivate and integrate a mindset to promote flourishing and wellness despite life circumstances.

Some interesting findings in this field:

  • “Societies in which high levels of negative feelings, such as anger, depression, sadness, and envy, exist are inherently more unstable and are more likely to have political conflicts or revolutions.”
  • “There is much evidence that happy people do better in a number of areas of life, such as social relationships, work and income, health and longevity, and overall societal benefits. More importantly, it is not just that success in these areas causes well-being. Rather, there is some evidence that well-being actually causes success in these areas.”
  • One study found that the cheerfulness of entering college students correlated to their future earnings controlling for occupation and parental income
  • “Using data from the Gallup World Poll, we also found that people’s feelings of their lives were strong positive predictors of longevity, and correlated with the mean life expectancy in nations even more strongly than national wealth. Furthermore, even when wealth was statistically controlled, longevity was strongly predicted by people’s well being”
  • “People who seek happiness are shown not to be selfish people who engage in activities for their own gain and ignore societal problems but, conversely, to engage more frequently than unhappy people in altruistic, prosocial activities such as volunteering. Moreover, happy people on average tend to have more trusting, cooperative, and pro-peace attitudes, more confidence in the government and armed forces, a greater willingness to fight for their country, stronger support for democracy, and lower levels of intolerance for immigrants and racial groups.”
  • “While data support the claim that high levels of subjective well-being benefit citizens on a personal level, there is also a large body of evidence suggesting that well-being is good for societies in such areas of health and longevity, pro-peace, social capital, and income.”
  • “Put simply, Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory states that positive emotions widen people’s outlooks in ways that, little by little, beneficially reshape who they are. Over time, frequent experiences of positive emotions can trigger upward spirals between positive affect and expansive, creative thinking, which lead to personal growth and flourishing.”
  • “Positive emotions also affect the manner in which individuals relate with one another by cultivating a unified understanding and deeper appreciation for common humanity, while bridging the divides of racial and cultural differences. Positivity opens people, both mentally and socially.”
  • “Positive emotions broaden people’s awareness, allowing them to step beyond the narrow confines of negativity to explore new situations and ideas. Through this increased openness, positive emotions set people on positive trajectories of growth that build their personal resources, creating increasing social integration and emotional stability. Positive emotions also fuel resilience, serving as the means through which people can resist downward spirals in the face of adversity, and instead be buoyed by positivity’s upward spirals.”
  • “Considerable room remains for one to climb up or down down in happiness, as approximately 40% of the individual differences in well-being can be accounted for by one’s activities and perceptions of life circumstances. Indeed, studies have shown that well-being can be boosted by engaging in intentional, effortful activities, such as writing letters of gratitude, counting one’s blessings, practicing optimism, performing acts of kindness, and using one’s signature strengths.”

What I found most interesting is how our own well-being can affect everything from our own health to the overall wellness of society at large. The findings above compounded with studies showing that happiness is contagious with up to at least 3 degrees of separation, makes it of utmost importance that each of us manage our own well-being as it is having an impact on society, and at the very least an impact on your closest family and friends.

Whatever your goals are whether that is to save the world, do better work, make more friends, earn more money, or just feel better all of this flows from ensuring you feel good. We try so hard to engineer the impermanent factors like our relationships and income before we give ourselves permission to feel good. When in actuality the research is beginning to show that by feeling good we produce favorable life circumstances (income, health, relationships).

I hope to see a day where a class with this information is taught in our schools and interwoven into curriculums and given as equal importance as the maths & sciences. For reflecting on my own life experience, this was the part that was left out of my formal education and upbringing. I was raised on the premise that everything must be engineered perfectly before I can enjoy the moment, when in fact through the enjoyment of this moment and life does the rest really fall into place.

As we think about innovative ways to help people in the world this quote comes to mind:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

I think teaching a man to fish goes beyond simply providing the tools, knowledge, and skill set – it also means helping others cultivate a mindset of wellness & flourishing. The right mindset allows people to thrive and excel in a bunch of areas in life, while providing the resources to deal with the inevitable road bumps on our journey. Moreover, if you really think about it mindset is what builds the foundation of society and the way our systems function. Everything we see in our physical world started with a thought or an idea. These thoughts or ideas came from a mind with a particular way of viewing the world. Our mindset can be credited for our laws, the actions we take, our approach to relationships, the beauty we see, and the havoc we wreak. Therefore, any true change in the world will also come from a change in our collective mindset.

Most of the findings in this article came from a book called Applied Positive Psychology where psychology scientists & researchers re-capped their studies and key findings. Feel free to shoot me an email if you want more information on the studies that support the quotes I listed in the article. Also, I’ll write about exercises & interventions that promote well-being in a follow up post.

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2 thoughts on “Q. How to change the world? A. Feel Good

  1. A great article. Before positive psychology was philosophy and how to live the ‘good life’. Positive psychology has taken up the gauntlet and added the scientific method to give extra bite. In a narcissistic age, who will listen to the simple truth that its what we give cheerfully to others that makes us happy? It has become a revolutionary idea. Best wishes, Chris

    1. Thanks for your comment Chris. I definitely agree, it is so interesting how the “science” is finally catching up to the spiritual truths that have been professed throughout the ages. Getting back to the fundamentals is key.

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