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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 24/03/2008

When the Centre started up we wanted to help project leaders measure the impact their interventions were having on people’s confidence. To do this effectively we needed to give them information on measurement tools. Dr Elaine Duncan, a psychologist from Caledonian University, and a researcher set about analysing the psychological literature. They confirmed what I already suspected – confidence isn’t a term used much by psychologists. Confidence is a multi-faceted term much used by people in everyday conversation but not used much by psychologists as its complex nature makes it difficult to measure. They prefer to break confidence down into more distinct elements which are measurable – optimism, self-efficacy, self-worth and so forth.

The discipline which uses the word confidence most is economics. Economists' interest in confidence is now big news. Confidence in the market, or particular financial institutions – or should I say, lack of it – is one of the big stories in newspapers these days and is likely to be there for some time to come. The confidence issue here is partly about optimism/pessimism: how confident am I as an investor that things are going to get better or do I think we’re doomed? But it is also partly about the dictionary definition of confidence – trust. Do I trust those who run financial institutions to tell the truth and act with integrity? Are they as financially solvent as they say they are or are the concealing dodgy loans and transactions which are bound to undermine the health of the institution in the longer term?

There’s little doubt lots of people are feeling jittery these days. Some believe we may not be on the verge of a recession but a depression. Others believe that we could witness the collapse of the banking system. Either scenario could lead to huge unemployment and a major restructuring of the economy.

To help us face what might be difficult times ahead it helps if we can become more philosophical. It is very common for good things to happen from bad events. People often go through a traumatic period in their life, and lose things, only to find that their lives are ultimately better. One of the reasons I really like the research coming out of Positive Psychology is that it provides evidence for this. It helps connect us with what is really important and makes life worth living. The other day I was leading a workshop on PP and setting out some of the key ideas. One woman present then said: “You are helping me understand something I was saying the other day and others found difficult to believe. We were talking about when we had been most happy in life and I said ‘during the miners strike’”. She grew up in a mining village and her men folk were all miners.

So PP helped her to see why sitting in her lovely new house, not knowing her neighbours, may not be as satisfying as communal soup making, singing and marching and feeling you are part of a support network. A useful thought to remember in the difficult days that may lie ahead.

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