Jul 13, 2020
Welcome to Episode 46.
As I write and record this week’s episode and think about the phrase “the greater good” in the title, I can’t help being momentarily distracted and chuckling to myself. If you’ve seen the dark comedy film Hot Fuzz, you’ll know what I mean. If not…I recommend it, and until you’ve watched it, just ignore me laughing to myself for a moment as I remember how the phrase “the greater good” (spoiler alert!) was used in the film!
My inspiration for today’s topic, however, comes from reading two articles recently that talked quite negatively about the origins of Positive Psychology as a pretty selfish endeavour focused purely on individual wellbeing. In her article for The Conversation, researcher Emma Anderson describes two views of happiness - one focusing on strong societal bonds and interdependence leading to state welfare provisions, and another, which she has found in her research to be more common, being an individualistic view of “working on one’s happiness”. Emma cites growing criticisms of Positive Psychology, which seems to negate social injustices, poverty, exploitation etc and essentially blame the victims because they’re not putting in the effort to be happy.
I get this. My very first essay for my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology was about the criticisms of this field and there is some validity in accusing Positive Psychology of elitism, though I would also argue that even from its inception, the proponents of Positive Psychology such as Martin Seligman talked about societal flourishing, so perhaps the issue has been more in interpretation than design.
That said, the second article related to this criticism that I’ve read in the last week was a research paper by Michael Hogan, published very recently, in May this year. In this paper, he cites the models of what’s known as “second wave Positive Psychology”, in which there is much more focus on collaboration towards collective wellbeing, and where negative emotions such as anger and sadness can drive societal transformation. Emma Anderson’s article does, in fact, end with an expression of hope that, as we return to some kind of normality, we also retain our “renewed sense of community and activism” and that our “more outward-looking version of wellbeing continues and thrives”.
I hope that, too, and I firmly believe that schools and our education system as a whole have a large role to play in this. When I developed my “LeAF - Learn and Flourish” (1) model of whole school positive education, I looked at many models around the world and the most comprehensive ones included elements of schools supporting their local communities and encouraging good citizenship in their students. Character Education, which forms a significant element of Positive Education, also encourages the development of strengths and virtues that make us far more focused on the collective greater good than merely on ourselves. Collaboration features highly in my model of whole school Positive Education as stakeholder engagement at every level is essential for such an approach to be truly comprehensive and effective. I know that, for my part, and all the people I have worked and studied with in the field of Positive Psychology, this field has never been about a selfish drive for hedonistic happiness, but rather a focus on eudaimonia, which has much broader societal connotations.
As individuals, we have limited control and influence over national policy, though of course those of us lucky enough to have a democratic voice through voting in elections have some level of influence that way. Additionally we have seen, particularly recently, the power of peaceful protest. But as educators, we have a huge opportunity to shape a better, more collaborative and altruistic world. We can start by creating schools where these values are strong. We can demonstrate these values in our interactions with our colleagues, our students, their parents and the wider community. We can ensure our schools’ policies foster these values and that these are reflected in those schools’ cultures.
In my book, For Flourishing’s Sake, I give plenty of examples of how teachers and school leaders have done this in a wide range of educational settings. It can be done, and if we start in schools, we’re laying the foundations for the future. So as you plan for the next academic year, or as you go to work in school today if your school is currently open, consider the small steps you can take as an individual to support a more collaborative and supportive culture within your school. It can start with something as simple as a smile and a small act of kindness. What seed will you plant today for a flourishing tomorrow?
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The book, by the same name, came out on Kindle on 18th June and will be out on paperback on 21st August. You’ll find it on all major online book retailer sites. It’s jam-packed with evidence-based strategies for whole school positive education with case study examples from a wide range of schools from around the world. So why not order your Kindle copy now, or pre-order your paperback so you’ll receive it as soon as it’s published?
If you’d like to get in touch with questions or comments, or to contribute to a future episode, please contact me via Twitter at @FlourishingED. You can also leave comments on individual episode pages right here at www.forflourishingssake.com (see bottom of this page).
I look forward to hearing from you, and until next time, For Flourishing’s Sake, have a great week!