Individual wellbeing is largely dependent on the family and social context in which individuals live and work. This chapter addresses some of the societal factors that are critical, and ways in which a positive psychology perspective might promote positive change. We begin by asking the reader to imagine an ideal society where kindness and the common good prevail, and then we explore issues that get in the way of people flourishing. Poverty, inequality, racism and other forms of discrimination are top of the list. We cite research that shows that countries who have the least gap between the haves and have-nots do better for everyone. In the section on building better societies we consider the need for equity to reduce disadvantage, alongside ways to empower women and address racism and other forms of discrimination. Self-determination, focusing on strengths, and fostering social connection, can all have an impact. This is increasingly important for the next generation. Justice in any society matters, but prison is ineffective. Positive criminology has the potential to reduce recidivism and build more trust in the police. We cite research and activities in all these areas that have led to significant changes, and consider how we might build on these.
Dan Siegel (2012) “Flipping your lid”: A Scientific Explanation
Megan Phelps-Roper (2017) I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church: Here’s why I left. TED.
- Robert Biswas-Diener (Ed.) (2011) Positive psychology as social change. Springer.
- Salvatore Di Martino & Isaac Prilleltensky (2020) Happiness as fairness: The relationship between national life satisfaction and social justice in EU countries. Journal of Community Psychology, 48(6), 1997-2012.
- Nic Marks & Hetan Shah (2014) A well-being manifesto for a flourishing society. New Economics Foundation
- Matt Hawkins & Jennifer Nadel (Eds.) (2021) How Compassion can Transform our Politics, Economy, and Society. Routledge.
- Daniela Marzana, Sara Martinez Damia, Sara Alfieri & Elena Marta (2019) Youth and Their Challenge to Promote a Fairer Multicultural Society: a Qualitative Study of African Immigrant Activists. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 20(2), 557-576.
- Pascal Molenberghs (2013) The neuroscience of in-group bias. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(8), 1530-1536.
- Tom King (2020) The Generous Society.
- Dolly Chugh (2018) The Person you Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias. Harper Business.
- Lennon Flowers (2021) Is Dialogue Enough to Bridge Racial Divides? Greater Good Science Center.
What makes for a good society?
- Centre for Society and Mental Health at Kings College London quotation – in the “How we see things” section – has been slightly reworded since retrieved for the book!
- New Statesman / Webb Memorial Trust (2017) Rethinking Poverty: What makes a Good Society? (First published as a supplement to the New Statesman of 06 Oct 2017). Policy Press.
- Woman’s Own (1987) Margaret Thatcher Interview, 23 September 1987.
- Amitai Etzioni (1996) The New Golden Rule. HarperCollins.
- The Golden Rule
- John Helliwell, Richard Layard & Jeffrey Sachs (2017) World Happiness Report 2017. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
What gets in the way of a society where everyone can flourish?
- UNICEF sanitation mortality estimates: unicef.org/wash
- WHO (2001) Water for health: taking charge. World Health Organization.
- FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO (2020) The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. FAO.
- Habitat for Humanity
- UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- Loay Alnaji, Mahmoud Yousef Askari & Ghaleb El Refae (2016) Can tolerance of diverse groups improve the wellbeing of societies? International Journal of Economics and Business Research, 11(1), 48–57.
- Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Anna Brown & Kiana Cox (2019) Race in America 2019. Pew Research Centre.
- Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex. ,
- Gabriel Schwartz & Jaquelyn Jahn (2020) Mapping fatal police violence across U.S. metropolitan areas: Overall rates and racial/ethnic inequities, 2013-2017. PLOS One, June 24, 2020
- Martha Augoustinos (2013) Psychological perspectives on racism. InPsych, 35(4).
- John Gramlich (2019) The gap between the number of blacks and whites in prison is shrinking. Pew Research Centre.
- The Guardian (9 June 2020) “Aboriginal deaths in custody: Black Lives Matter protests referred to our count of 432 deaths. It’s now 437.”
What can positive psychology offer?
- David Mellor, Mark Stokes, Lucy Firth, Yoko Hayashi & Robert Cummins (2008) Need for belonging, relationship satisfaction, loneliness and life satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 213–218.
- Sue Roffey (2013) Inclusive and exclusive belonging – the impact on individual and community well-being. Educational and Child Psychology, 30(1), 38-49.
- Megan Phelps-Roper (2017) I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church: Here’s why I left. TED talk.
- Joseph Durlak, Rebecca Taylor, Kei Kawashima, Molly Pachan, Emily DuPre, Christine Celio, Sasha Berger, Allison Dymnicki & Roger Weissberg (2007) Effects of positive youth development programs on school, family, and community systems. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39, 269–286.
- John Helliwell, Haifang Huang & Shun Wang (2016) New evidence on trust and well-being. National Bureau of Economic Research. (No. w22450)
- Richard Ryan & Edward Deci (2000) The “what” and “why” of goal pursuit: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 2000(11), 227–268.
- Richard Ryan & Edward Deci (2017) Self-Determination Theory – Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development and Wellness. Guilford Press.
- Transforming life in a refugee camp: Refugee Support
Building on what’s working
- Kostadin Kushlev, Danielle Drummond, Samantha Heintzelman & Ed Diener (2019) Do happy people care about society’s problems? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(4), 467-77.
- Barbara Fredrickson (2001) The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226.
- David Cooperider & Diana Whitney (2005) Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change. Berrett-Koehler
- United Religions Initiative (2003) Appreciative Inquiry and URI
- WHO (2015) Appreciative inquiry: Nepal uses new approach to achieve full immunization for children. World Health Organization.
Building better societies
Fairness: equality versus equity
- Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Allen Lane / Penguin.
- Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett (2019) The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-being. Penguin.
- Social Mobility Commission (2019) State of the Nation 2018-19: Social Mobility in Great Britain. HMSO.
- Oksana Yakushko (2018) Don’t worry, be happy: Erasing racism, sexism, and poverty in positive psychology. Psychotherapy and Politics International, 16(1)
- Thomas Fraser Pettigrew & Linda Tropp (2008) How does intergroup contact reduce prejudice? Meta-analytic tests of three mediators. European journal of social psychology, 38(6), 922 – 934
- Elle (9 June 2020) Why Black Activists & Celebrities Are Taking Over White Influencers’ Instagram Handles For #ShareTheMicNow
- Together for Humanity
Rony Berger, Joy Benatov, Hisham Abu-Raiya & Carmit Tadmor (2016) Reducing prejudice and promoting positive intergroup attitudes among elementary-school children in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Journal of school psychology, 57.
- Gallup Law and Order Index
- Lawrence Sherman (2020) Targeting American Policing, Rogue Cops or Rogue Cultures? Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing, 4, 77–88.
- Katherine Landergan (2020) The City that Really Did Abolish the Police. Politico.
- Francis Cullen, Cheryl Lero Jonson & Daniel Nagin (2011) Prisons do not reduce recidivism: The high cost of ignoring science. The Prison Journal 91(3), 48S–68S.
- Natti Ronel & Dana Segev (2015) Positive Criminology. Routledge.
- Manudeep Bhuller, Gordon Dahl, Katrine Løken, Magne Mogstad & Christa Freeland (2019) What the rest of the world can learn from Norway’s prison system. World Economics Forum
- Lena Leong (2010) Story of the Singapore prison service: From custodians of prisoners to captains of life. NS6 International Roundtable, Public Governance International.
Empowerment of women
- UN SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
- United Nations (2019) The Report of the Secretary General: The Special Edition of the Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report. UN.
- Equal Measures 2030 (2019) Harnessing the power of data for gender equality: Introducing the 2019 EM2030 SDG Gender Index: Global Report 2019.
- Marcus Noland, Tyler Moran & Barbara Kotschwar (2016) Is gender diversity profitable? Evidence from a global survey. Peterson Institute for International Economics Working Paper.
- Global Partnership for Education (2015) 15 women leading the way for girls’ education.
Increasing employment prospects
- Simon Luechinger, Stephan Meier and Alois Stutzer (2010) Why does unemployment hurt the employed? Evidence from the life satisfaction gap between the public and the private sector. Journal of Human Resources, 45(4), 998-1045.
- Darren Coppin, Joseph Ciarrochi, Baljinder Sahdra & David Rosete (2020) Evaluation of The Treatment Utility of a Jobseeker Segmentation and Intervention Program. OSF Preprints.
- Jennie Brand (2015) The far-reaching impact of job loss and unemployment. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 359-375.