We saw widening gaps in wealth, health, education and employment, climate change; growing movements towards individualism and nationalism fuelled by a ‘post-fact’, divisive media – all contributing to fragmented communities and divided societies.
For many individuals, the speed of life and overload at work was leaving little time for all that makes life more joyful, meaningful and worth living. This was exacerbated by social media fuelling ‘fear of missing out’ and negative self-comparison; loneliness even in crowded cities; and young people without a sense of purpose.
As a group immersed in positive psychology, we saw that the science of wellbeing might provide a new paradigm to help shape a different future. Drawing on our different individual fields of expertise we each had ideas for how this emerging body of knowledge could provide the basis for innovation and change.
Our aim was to write a book that might help create a world that enabled a more flourishing future for us all. Our first draft was all but completed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
As if someone had pressed a huge pause button, much of the world went into some form of lockdown, and it drove rapid change. The long-anticipated transition to a more online world arrived in an instant, and formerly slow, bureaucratic systems suddenly mobilised at top speed as we all faced the unknown. Old ways of relating, learning and working had to transform overnight. Countries and communities sought to find a way through the trauma of personal illness, the grievous loss of loved ones, huge financial difficulty and an upsurge of anxiety about both the present and the future.
Shortly afterwards the Black Lives Matter movement rose up on a global scale, galvanizing awareness that many in black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities are undervalued, unheard and underrepresented in positions of power.
There is now the opportunity to press another huge ‘button’, a reset one. The pandemic revealed the many flaws in our systems and how we have been living. It has also give rise to wonderful examples of humans at their best and how life can be when we slow down or can step off the treadmill and focus on what really matters.
Both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement provide a ‘burning platform’ for the change clearly needed for people and our planet. A catalyst for creativity and innovation to create a better, more physically and psychologically sustainable world, one where we work to build mutual understanding, recognising we have more in common than divides us.
For the last two decades there has been growing evidence on what human beings need to both feel good and function well. As we emerge now into a new world and navigate through uncertainty we have the potential to move forward, informed by this science. As the spread of the virus and the response to it has shown, this is not just about individuals, we exist in wider interconnected systems. So we have explored what the science of wellbeing means for our communities, education systems, workplaces, the media, health systems, the economy and beyond. There is evidence too that when we truly flourish so will the planet.
To bring the science to life and engage hearts as well as minds, we have included in every chapter stories of good practice, incidents where ordinary lives have been changed, examples of what has made the difference and some ideas for moving forward. Our hope is to provoke conversation and gently challenge possibly long-held views, beliefs and ideologies about the way the world works and the people in that world.
About this book
This book is about hope and a call to action to make the world the kind of place we want to live in.
Our aim is to inspire readers to see why we urgently need a different approach to how we live our lives and to begin to make changes individually and with others.
We give a flavour of the main issues and offer a set of evidence-based principles that underlie human wellbeing. We also offer practical ideas based on these principles that can be applied to create positive change in different areas of life.
We invite readers to reflect on how the ideas presented relate to their own experiences and how they can generate further strategies for action.
This book is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the scientific literature. We are, however, proud to be adding our voices to those of other authors, academics, and practitioners arguing for wellbeing-driven societal change.
In each chapter we provide selected key sources that support the evidence provided. More comprehensive references for each chapter, along with further reading and resources, are available on this website.
Science is a dynamic process and is never perfect and complete. While there have been important advances in the science of wellbeing, much remains to be discovered. Where possible we include examples from diverse contexts, but we recognise that most of the current research on wellbeing has been undertaken in a Western context, among high-income and middle-income countries. There is some emerging evidence from other contexts and we strongly support the need for more.
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