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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 27/02/2012 | 2 Comments

We've been in operation for over seven years and during that time have organised a number of really successful events – many with high numbers and a great deal of commitment from those who attended. I am particularly thinking of the Vanguard Programme on positive psychology which had a hefty fee and time commitment yet we still had over 300 participants.

Nonetheless I detected a real shift at our last event with the MP Jo Swinson. Jo set out her support for well-being indicators as way to help us move away from an obsession with economic growth and to concentrate our minds on things that mattered much more to human well-being. She then spoke about why she helped set up the Body Confidence Campaign, why things like air brushing and media images are a political issue worthy of her attention and what they have been doing.  In the Q & A session  various people recounted stories of young mothers in deprived areas 'more interested in turning their bodies orange' as one speaker put it, than looking after their babies. Another college lecturer who is 25 said that she felt she came from a completely different generation from the young women she teaches who  confess that they spend  2-3 hours in the morning getting ready to go to college.

Following an engaging conversation with the audience Jo had to leave about fifteen minutes before we were scheduled to end. I had always envisaged the last part of the night as a consultation exercise for the Centre on what we should be doing.

I then set out pretty briefly why we were planning to major on materialist values  – defined so well by our previous speaker Professor Tim Kasser as a focus on money and what it can buy; appearance and image; and status, fame, popularity. This built nicely on Jo Swinson's contribution but allowed a much more wide ranging discussion taking in the bonus culture, corporate greed, environmental degradation and so forth.

In the discussion that ensued the air became electric. As we went past our allotted finishing time some people left but the vast majority stayed to became involved in the discussion. Many present said that not only did they want to know more but they also wanted to become involved actively. Could we organise some events where there was more time for discussion? Could we organise a  workshop, a strategy or visioning evening? Could they help promote the message? We are now looking at organising something along these lines in a couple of months time.

Coming home from the evening I really felt that this was the beginning of something and that there was much more  energy available for action than there ever was during our positive psychology events. I've been pondering why this might be the case and think that pp underestimates the motivating effect of negative emotions such as disgust. When people think about the dominance of materialist values in our lives they quickly become appalled at how our basic human values are being hijacked by the media and others in power. They want to take action to reclaim them.

Study history and you will see that big changes in society such as an end to slavery, factory legislation, the extension of the suffrage to working men and then to women came because people felt very negative about the status quo.

Anger and disgust are energising. Of course, it matters how you run the campaign – hope and optimism are essential as are the warm feelings of solidarity and commitment which can be generated by those involved in collective action. Watch this space.

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Joined: 12/03/2012

Comment Posted: 12/03/2012 12:50
Good to see you at TEDx. I agree with you and I think PP can be used in this fight. Negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones - they help us survive - but they narrow our thinking rather than broaden it, as you describe in the work of Barbara Fredrickson. My concern is that energising the converted won't empower or inspire those who have the most to gain.

As Nic Marks said at TED, Martin Luther King didn't inspire people with his 'I have nightmare' speech. PP isn't about dismissing problems and only focusing on the things that work, it's about harnessing what works to deal with the problems that we want to solve.
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