How can we link understanding how happiness is reflected in a person’s well being to the well being of society? Positive Psychology suggests that happy people have a great influence on society. Through their interest in and support of others, they make up a large number of volunteers, they are more likely to have a pro-peace attitude, and are overall more co-operative.
However, as mentioned already in a previous article, happiness is rather a two-way street. Whilst happy people create a more positive society, positive society and institutions also creates happy people.
Robert Kennedy is quoted to have said in 1968 “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our GNP (Gross Nation Product)…measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile” (Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth., Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2008).
Thus positive institutions that follow community values of support, care, appreciation, and respect will inevitably create citizens that are happier. This in turn will lead to better health, more social involvement, and more productivity.
Martin Seligman reports of a successful experiment with the Geelong Grammar School in Australia. Interestingly he points out that most people want for their children happiness, success, flourishing, and the ability to reach their potential yet school curricula focus on work place skills (math, grammar etc.) but not the skills that are known to lead to happiness and well being. Seligman urges governments to consider positive schools as necessary for improving society and quality of life of people. He refers to depression research that reveals that an average age of onset used to be 29 years in the 1960s and has changed by 1995 to 14 years. Thus depression has become an ‘adolescents’ disorder and the earlier onset means an additional ocean of tears and years of unhappiness for the younger generation.