As a planet our levels of happiness haven’t really changed in the last 100 years. However, our levels of stress, anxiety and depression have never been higher and are rising. The US predicts that by 2020, stress related anxiety disorders will be the largest disability impacting wellbeing and economic output after coronary heart disease, which is also related to anxiety.
There’s clearly a lot ‘wrong’ with how we’re functioning as individuals. However, as a species we clearly have the capacity to be happy and live fulfilling lives. We must capitalise on what makes us flourish if we’re to shift the tide in that direction.
There is a wealth of research and evidence looking into the science behind what’s ‘right’ about individuals and society. The field of Positive Psychology has paved the way for new thinking on Learned Optimism in place of Learned Hopelessness, Resilience in place of Despair and a focus on Strengths in place of Weakness. The findings demonstrate that a significant percentage of our happiness is within our personal control.
In the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ spirit of Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson, work on strength-based empowerment has lead to lasting results when it comes to happiness and the ability of individuals to lead truly meaningful lives. Eudemonia or ‘the Good Life’ is at last within our grasp.
For me the work on Positive Psychology parallels business thinking that we’ve known for some time and is long overdue. Put simply:
People flourish when they focus on their ‘Core Strengths’ (Positive Psychology)
Businesses flourish when they focus on their ‘Core Competence’ (Corporate Strategy)
The applied use of Positive Psychology frameworks does indeed provide an opportunity to change the tide of emotional malaise. But to achieve the future we want we need to go further. Building Optimism, Resilience and Strength at an individual level is not enough. We need to amplify the power of these capabilities to change the way we connect with our ‘Tribes’ on a societal level.
To use a business context once more, the formal rigid landscape of corporate mergers and acquisitions has dramatically shifted over the last 5 years. Companies traditionally undertake huge amounts of due diligence to mitigate risk before choosing to invest huge amounts into strategically appropriate partners. This would be followed by major reconstruction in post-merger cost-cutting to create a new entity that would be a pared down version of the original parents.
Whilst M&A activity still occurs, a new model has evolved: that of temporary collaborative open source partnering. Organisations still seek other market players to achieve their strategic aims, but now in areas of specific expertise and skill. The engagement and commitment is focused on building informal structures where companies work to combine specific strengths to create more powerful commercial propositions than they could have on their own.
Similarly Positive Psychology can help individuals use their strengths and core character to engage with others on a more effective level. But rather than focus on rigid structures of complement or compromise, there is an opportunity for individuals to strategically use their strengths in social tribes which come together for specific goals. These tribes could act as powerful change agents by forming, collaborating and then dispersing on the basis of strengths required to respond to a social need.
The central role of big government and organisations and any giant hierarchical structure providing the leadership needed to shape change has expired. It’s time for strength-based tribes to provide the real life equivalent of Web 2.0 thinking and come together to respond to and lead change. To get the Future we Deserve it’s the Tribes that will need to create and drive the conditions for change that will take us forward.
- World Health Organisation: http://web.archive.org/web/20120816210444/http://www.who.int/mental%5Fhealth/management/depression/definition/en/
- Seligman, M. E. P. (2006) Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage Books
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_psychology