In the previous blog entry, I argued for the extension of positive psychology into the area of positive society psychology. In this second blog entry on the topic, I become more specific. (a) First, what are some practical ways that this new approach could be put into effect? (b) Second, what are some of the principles that positive psychology has to offer that can help society develop optimally, work toward a societal sense of subjective well-being, and maintain its gains through resilience?

Practices

At different levels, western governments have independent financial watchdogs or auditors who point out all the waste and poor decisions made by the government yearly. In western countries, central banks, the Supreme Court, and other institutions have independent authority and do not have to answer to the government. We should ask whether it is time to establish an independent nongovernmental organization think tank or even a government review board that considers social, political, and economic policies from the psychological perspective. Perhaps it is time for societies to create the position of a society watchdog—an ombudsman that functions for the good of society and is genuinely impartial. Optimizing the psychological well-being related both to the members of the society and the society as a whole would be a primary concern of such a position.

If the government is involved in naming members to a board, government committees with equal members of liberals and conservatives should appoint them—a step that would encourage compromise and alleviate disagreements. Whether governmental or non-governmental, the think tank, board, or panel would function from foundational principles related to positive psychology as applied to society as a whole and try to avoid the political scraps that often characterize and even paralyze society politics.


How would the positive society psychology group keep its relevance and not fall into doctrinaire habits? The group should be open to positive change and not simply function in a vacuum according to unchangeable principles. In this regard, it would constantly seek to improve itself in terms of its underlying principles. Moreover, it would do the same in terms of how it undertakes its tasks and in terms of the recommendations that it makes. It would be fully open and accessible to the profession of psychology, related disciplines, the government, and most importantly, the public. It would create linkages with the public through town hall meetings and other venues, such as social media, which are not directly political.

An approach like this would consider the needs of all members of the society, including those who suffer the most and need help due to either personal or contextual problems. At the same time, the positive psychology group would not be naïve and impractical. It would promote policies that would have safeguards to block individuals or groups from taking advantage or even working against and undermining society and its fundamental values.

After gathering all the facts and data related to an issue that it is deliberating, the group would arrive at reasoned recommendations. The group would never arrive at decisions based on purely conservative or liberal ideologies. Rather, all conclusions made would consider all possible options and still reflect independent thought and recommendations.

The positive psychology group would weigh the advantages and disadvantages of any recommendation made. It would act to assure that each recommendation considers all possible benefits compared to costs or losses. Also, the group would point out the flaws and waste in existing government policies.

I would add that in all its endeavors it should take into account economic and social factors so that recommendations are practical, despite being idealistic. The deliberations and recommendations of the group would not lead to policy directives in and of themselves—that would be for the government to decide. If the government's decisions about the group's recommendations do not please the public, they could react in the next round of voting.

Principles

The underlying principles to a psychology of positive society are difficult to elaborate on because they need to be different from both positive psychology principles that have been developed for individuals and from general statements about the political and historical rights of individuals and peoples. That being said, the primary principles of positive society psychology should share these principles, which can be summarized, respectively, as the right to flourish and the right to have universal advanced forms of democracy.


The hardest part would be to find an optimal balance in individual and collective rights. Ideally, the society promotes the optimal development of all its individuals and groups so that they work together toward societal flourishing and advanced and inclusive democratic functioning. Another difficult part would be to avoid the extreme arguments that arise in the conservative-liberal divide and have both types help in the constant search for the optimal development of all individuals and of society as a whole.

Society forms an interconnected whole, and it needs to work to strengthen its evolutionary processes so that change takes place in natural and constructive ways. Ultimately, the goal of the working group on positive society psychology would be to suggest policies that, if implemented, would lead society to improve. Any society will suffer setbacks due to economic, social, climate, and geographical pressures and misfortunes. Therefore, a key goal of the group would be to help develop coping and resilience mechanisms that keep it on track when stressors and calamities strike.

The proposed idea merits further thought and I look forward to your interactive suggestions. In the next blog entry in the series on positive society psychology, I project how this new scientific proposal might help both individuals and society in the year 2050.

 

About the Author

Gerald Young, Ph.D.

Gerald Young, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at York University.

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