Monday, January 16, 2012

Be Happy...or else

Find here a repost of a blog explaining and exploring activities by the UK and US governments to increase the happiness.

via The Politics of Well-Being by Jules Evans on 1/7/12

Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington School, hasbrought out a pamphlet laying out a vision for a new 'politics of optimism'. It’s a vision that draws heavily on ancient philosophy and on Positive Psychology, and is worth a read.

Seldon argues that only a handful of British governments have genuinely shaped the nation, while most of them simply responded to events. The Coalition government, he argues, has so far failed to shape the national agenda, but it could do so, if it revitalised the much-derided concept of the ‘Big Society’, and used it to focus on building four key values: goodness, trust, optimism and forward-thinking. We are going to be materially poorer over the next decade, he argues, but we can become mentally, morally and spiritually richer, if the government pursues the right policies.

Seldon is one of the key figures in the politics of well-being - the political movement that I have written about for the last four years or so - because he brings together in his own person the world of politics (he has written biographies of Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown), education (he is the headmaster of Wellington), and the psychology of well-being (he was the first headmaster to introduce well-being classes, and is also one of the founders of Action for Happiness, which campaigns to spread Positive Psychology in British society).

I confess that I am slightly wary of Seldon: he is too confident that he knows the meaning of life. This is probably a necessary trait in a headmaster, but a dangerous trait in a policy-maker. I fear he treats British citizens too often as school-children, who need to be drilled in the basics of well-being (and for him, well-being is a very obvious and basic concept), then everyone will be happier and better-off. He often complains that British education is too mechanical, too focused on passing tests - but he never considers that ‘well-being classes’ can themselves become overly mechanical and robotic, if young people are not enabled to debate and decide for themselves what well-being is.

Nonetheless, there are many areas where I agree with Seldon. The reason I first got into the politics of well-being, many years ago, is because I fell into depression and social anxiety in my last year at school, and remained very depressed and anxious all the way through university. It took me several years to work out what was wrong with me, and how to escape that dark valley, using ancient philosophy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I wish I had come across the ideas and techniques of ancient philosophy and CBT at school and university - it would have saved me a lot of suffering - and my hope is that future generations will have this possibility.

Seldon agrees so far. He writes that British universities suffer from

often poor levels of pastoral care, especially for students in their difficult first year away from home. More than 76,000 students who started at universities in 2008 failed to graduate in the summer of 2011, a national drop-out rate of 21%. Depression and anxiety amongst undergraduates is increasing at an alarming rate: the numbers who reported mental health difficulties rose by 270% in the first five years of this century, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Much greater emphasis needs to be placed on providing appropriate levels of pastoral care for undergraduates, and to ensuring that the quality of student support, as well as academic enrichment, equals the best universities in the US, if the trickle of British students currently crossing the Atlantic to study at university is not to become a torrent....Universities, like schools, need and shape young hearts and minds, not give them a sludgy amalgam.
He likewise thinks schools need to focus not just on academic achievement, but also on building ‘character’:

Education Secretary Michael Gove, and still more his Department for Education have locked themselves into a view of schools: either they promote ‘educational standards’ or all-round or ‘holistic’ education. Trying to do the second will be at the expense of the first. In fact, as the evidence of successful schools in Britain clearly shows, it is those schools that focus firmly on values and breadth of educational experience which secure the best results and educate their young people to the full. David Brooks, author of The Social Animal (2011), allegedly ‘required reading’ for the cabinet, said of schools: “If you don’t focus on character and behaviour, then the results of handing out money are always going to be disappointing”. State schools like West Kidlington primary school in Oxfordshire or King’s Langley, a secondary school in Hertfordshire, show that embracing values and ‘character’ education can transform a school and its results. South Korea is one of many countries whose education systems have been redesigned to embrace character development and creativity, not as a bolt-on, but as an integral part the school experience for its young people.
And he thinks this sort of character-building should carry on in adult life. The government, he suggests, should roll out a large-scale programme of Positive Psychology to teach ‘optimistic thinking’ to the nation’s six million public sector workers:
In 2009, Martin Seligman with his team from the University of Pennsylvania began to introduce positive thinking to the US Army. A ten-day master resilience trainer (MRT) course provides face-to-face resilience training, imparting the skills to sergeants for their own use as well as for them to teach the skills to their soldiers. This ‘train the trainer’ model has been evaluated and has been found to be successful in enhancing the mental health of the US Army, the cause of widespread concern.

There are six million public sector workers in Britain. The government should trial the resilience techniques which Seligman is teaching the US Army on selected groups of them. Prison guards, the police or NHS staff could be the place to start. School teachers too would benefit from learning more about this thinking. It involves learning how to detect ‘inaccurate’ thoughts, evaluating the value of those thoughts and how to challenge negative beliefs by considering alternative patterns of thinking. It teaches a variety of strategies useful in solving problems, and coping with difficult and stressful situations and emotions. Participants learn techniques to enhance assertiveness, to improve their negotiating skills, to boost decision-making and deepen their ability to relax and simply ‘let go’. Seligman’s programmes have been extensively evaluated, and while his approach has detractors in the academic world and beyond, the training would nevertheless be valuable in bringing greater optimism and human warmth into public services.

This is certainly a bold vision. But I really can’t see that last idea flying. Can you imagine - the Coalition government is cutting public sector budgets across the board, but it finds (let’s say) £1 billion to give to Martin Seligman and the University of Pennsylvania, to train public sector workers to think optimistically? 'Sorry, guys, we're cutting your pensions, but hey, here's a free course in thinking positively'. I can't see Unison signing up to that.

For one thing, the course which Seligman designed for the Pentagon was designed to prevent soldiers from getting post-traumatic stress disorder. Is PTSD a big problem in the British public sector as well? The Pentagon’s resilience-training course, which cost around $180 million, hasn’t even been properly evaluated yet. It was rolled out without a pilot programme, such was the Pentagon’s eagerness to cope with its epidemic of post-conflict suicide among veterans. Despite this lack of hard evidence, and despite the fact the course was designed to combat PTSD, Seldon wants to roll out resilience training to the entire nation - children, undergraduates, public and private sector workers. Well, you have to admire his optimism.

There’s no need for me to be overly-cynical. I myself was greatly helped by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and as I’ve said, the reason I got into this whole area was a belief that CBT - and the ancient philosophy that inspired it - should become more widely known and available. So I agree with Seldon that our schools and universities shouldn't just prepare people for the marketplace - but should teach young people some ideas, techniques and approaches to the good life.

But it’s all a question of how you do it.

My problem with Positive Psychology is that it tries to turn ancient philosophy into too rigid and prescriptive a science. The US Army’s resilience course, for example, makes every American soldier take a battery of computerised questionnaires, which supposedly measure their ‘emotional and spiritual fitness’. And if the soldiers score too low, a box appears saying: ‘Spiritual fitness may be a problem area for you. Please study the relevant self-development modules’. The priest is replaced with the spiritually-enlightened laptop.

Positive Psychology over-instrumentalizes well-being, has too reductive and amoral a definition of well-being, and relies too heavily on simplistic questionnaires in its efforts to measure well-being. It replaces human relationships with automated box-ticking. Politically, it grants too much authority to the 'scientific expert', and takes away too much autonomy from the citizen, who is forced to fit into a pre-fabricated version of well-being. It leaves no room for the individual's reasoning, or choice, or consent - which in my opinion are an important part of the good life. The political roll-out of Positive Psychology carries real risks of being illiberal and intrusive, and if Seldon is to be taken seriously, he needs to deal with those concerns head on.

My vision is not so far from Seldon’s, but it tries to find a better balance between the ancient idea of the good life or eudaimonia, and a modern, pluralist and liberal politics. It recognises that well-being is not a simple concept that can be easily defined and measured by empirical science. Rather, it embraces the plurality of philosophical definitions of well-being, and asks that we treat citizens as rational adults, who deserve the right to be brought into the conversation as equals, and shown some of the various different approaches - then left to make up their own minds as to how to define the good life.

We can still teach people the basic techniques of well-being - meditation, for example, or the Socratic method used in CBT - while also empowering them to discuss the various different approaches to well-being: Buddhist, Christian, Stoic, Epicurean, Aristotelian - and the arguments between those approaches. Well-being is not a straightforward concept which we can define scientifically and objectively, and the world would be a much more boring place if we could.

My ideal course in the good life would combine two of the most popular courses at Harvard: Tal Ben Shahar's course on Positive Psychology, and Michael Sandel's course on Justice. It would combine the well-being science of Ben Shahar's course, with the opportunity for ethical reasoning found in Sandel's course. Empiricism balanced with practical reasoning. Science balanced with the humanities. Not one version of the good life, but many. That's what I would like to see taught in schools, universities, and adult learning centres.

Things you can do from here:

We (Still) Want Bread, and Roses Too

The centennial of the famous strike in Lawrence, Mass., reminds us that our fight is about more than economics.

by John de Graaf

posted Jan 10, 2012 (reposted from Yes! Magazine)

A century ago, in what has come to be known as the Bread and Roses strike, a group of women walked out of the Lawrence, Mass., textile mill where they worked.

A new law had limited their working hours to 54 a week, two fewer than most of them had been working—so far, so good. But mill owners responded by decreasing the women's weekly wage, a difference that would cost their already hungry families a loaf of bread a day.

So the women demanded a pay raise of two cents an hour—from 16 to 18 cents—so they could buy enough bread; they also demanded extra pay for overtime work. During the following days and weeks, thousands of workers, most of them immigrant women, joined them in the streets.

The women faced clubs, bayonets, and frequent arrests. Many were hauled off to jail, children in tow. One, Annie LoPizzo, was shot and killed by the police. Still, they kept up the strike for two months, while national sympathy for their cause grew. Finally, in March, the mill owners conceded to their demands.

Today, the strike is remembered for a slogan that the women were reported to have used on their banners: “We want bread, and roses, too!” The slogan comes from a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim. A hundred years later, its words might speak for the Occupy movement:

No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes […]
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread but give us roses.

Hearts starve as well as bodies. It’s an old message from our religious traditions, and one the Bread and Roses centennial should call back to our attention.

100 Years Later, Still Fighting for the Roses

For half a century after the Lawrence strike, American workers fought not only for higher wages—bread—but also for shorter hours—roses. In other words, time for non-material sources of happiness—time to stop and smell the roses. Time for families, for nature, for learning, for friends and community, for reflection, rest and regeneration, time to meet non-material needs that deliver happiness, time to love and be loved.

Yet somehow, we came to believe we could live on “bread” alone; the roses are left to wilt. One reason is that, in our current measurements of economic success, “bread” is really all that matters. Our prime economic indicator—the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—measures only what we spend on final products and services. If it is bought and sold it counts; otherwise, it’s worth nothing.

If you crash your expensive SUV and end up with insurance, legal, medical and repair bills, congratulations—you’ve added to the GDP. Walk in the woods, volunteer, garden, or spend time with your kids, and you’ve done nothing economically useful, despite the happiness these activities provide. Robert Kennedy got it right back in 1968, when he observed that the Gross National Product “measures, in short, everything but that which makes life worthwhile.”

We need new measurements to tell us whether our economic activities are beneficial or harmful. Around the world, new indicators of success are emerging that measure the roses as well as the bread. From France to Bhutan to the United Kingdom to Maryland, governments are testing ways to measure how their policies affect well-being.

One such measurement is a survey of well-being recently introduced by The Happiness Initiative, a Seattle non-profit. The survey measures how well we are doing in ten areas of life: material well-being; physical health; mental health; access to arts, education, recreation and culture; time balance; confidence in government; environmental quality; work satisfaction; community participation and social support. The modern science of happiness has shown that each of these conditions plays an important role in our well-being. When you take the survey, you get a score comparing you to the American average. Communities—from Seattle to Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Nevada City, California—are now using the survey to assess their well-being, as are nearly a hundred colleges and universities.

The centennial of the Lawrence textile strike reminds us to value the roses and count them. It calls us to be gardeners of happiness, awakening our senses and watering the roses again.

John de Graaf wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. John is co-author (with David Batker) of What’s the Economy for, Anyway: Why it’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness (Bloomsbury, 2011) and outreach director of The Happiness Initiative.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jan 20 and 21: Seattle joins nationwide call to End Corporate Personhood!

"Corporations are NOT people! Money is NOT Speech!"
It's time to rise up together and make our voices heard
January 20th and January 21st, 2012

A broad coalition that includes Occupy Seattle, Move to Amend, People for Free Speech and other organizations is initiating two days of action, January 20 and Januray 21, to kickoff a public awareness campaign focused on amending the Constitution in order to limit the power of corporations to impact elections.
These bold actions mark the two-year anniversary of the infamous Citizens United vs. FEC decision.

Jan. 20th - "Occupy the Courts," Seattle joins a one-day occupation of Federal Courthouses across the country.

Jan. 21 - "People Ignited Against Citizens United," a noontime rally at Westlake Park including speeches, music and street theater, followed by a march at 2pm which will end up at the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building at 2nd Ave and Marion St.

"Be it resolved that Occupy Seattle calls for the abolition of corporate personhood. We join the tens of thousands of people, grassroots organizations and local governments across the country in calling for an Amendment to the Constitution to firmly establish that money spent on political campaigns must allow for an equal voice for all people, that human beings, not corporations, have natural rights protected by the Constitution, and that the rights of human beings will never again be granted to artificial entities or property."

Occupy Seattle:
You can also see Move to Amend's website for more information:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Be Happy in 2012

We started 2012 with a simple newsletter - Be Happy. If this year is a time of great change, let's "take the bull by the horns" and make that change positive. More- we all know change starts from within. Below is the newsletter,
Happiness in 2012 to you,
Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of the Happiness Initiative.
P.S. one practitioner, Laura Allen is offering a free one day worksop Jan 3rd. that focuses on happiness,

Resolve for Happiness

If you would like to continue receiving news about the Happiness Initiative, please sign up here.
HI logo July 2011
Let's make this year the beginning of a happiness era
January 1, 2012
This year, make a resolution for happiness!

What is Happiness? When we say "happiness" we are talking about the conditions of happiness as much as how your feel. This means you and your communities well-being in terms of time balance, education and learning, connection to family and friends, volunteerism, cultural activities, access to nature, trust in your community and government, work experience, economic circumstances, as well as physical and psychological well-being. True happiness comes from external and internal well-being along all the domains of happiness.

So how do you get happier? Take the Happiness Initiative survey to get your ownself assessment of your wellbeing. find out how you compare to the rest of the nation, and where you see an imbalance in your life, take a small action to increase the conditions of your own happiness. Then take the survey again in a few months to see how things have changed for you.

Why this survey? The Happiness Initiative survey was developed to measure the conditions of happiness by a team of scientists from San Francisco State University. The lead scientist, Dr. Ryan Howell, calls it "the most time efficient and comprehensive wellbeing survey out there anywhere."

If you have already taken the survey, we encourage you to take it again, and use itas a guide for self assessment and reflexion. Take the survey as many times as you like, when ever you like.

So - this year resolve to be happy and to spread happiness in your community.

Happy New Year!
Laura Musikanski,
Executive Director of The Happiness Initiative
HI logo July 2011Happiness Toolkits

The Happiness Initiative began as Sustainable Seattle's fifth set of regional sustainability indicators. Itreaches out to individual people and communities and listens. It compiles and reports the survey results and measures how people are doing from their own perspective. Moreover, it establishes a national and international dialogue about the most important aspect of human life - how we feel about our lives.

It is time to better understand what happiness is and to take action for the happiness of our selves, each other, as well as our neighborhoods, places of work, towns and cities. The Happiness Initiative is designed so anyone can conduct a happiness initiative. You can down load the took kit on the website.

Donate today!

Have ideas about foundations or donors for the Happiness Initiative? Let us know at

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