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Postcards from Scotland

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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 01/07/2006

Iím leaving tomorrow to attend the European Positive Psychology conference in Portugal. These conferences are held every two years. The last one, which I also attended, was in Italy. At that conference Professor Martin Seligman talked about his vision for Positive Psychology. Some of this is now coming to pass. It is almost impossible to read a newspaper these days and not stumble across something about happiness or the findings of a research study linking good health outcomes to some type of positive emotion.

In the USA there are a growing number of academic courses on Positive Psychology. The one offered by Harvard University has around 800 students enrolled and is the most popular course in Harvardís history. Later in the year an English-based academic, Dr Alex Linley, is setting up a Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.

Until I get to Portugal I canít be sure how many UK based psychologists are attending the conference but I think it is fair to say that UK psychologists are not exactly at the forefront of this movement. Apart from Linleyís work and what is happening at Cambridge University with Professor Felicia Huppert and Nick Bayliss, there doesnít seem to be a huge number of UK psychologists involved. But, as Martin Seligman himself makes clear, if the learning from Positive Psychology is to make an impact on ordinary individuals, on organisations and on cultures, the ideas will have to be taken up by people who are not psychologists.

The other day I learned about a really interesting positive psychology project which is a good example of this type of everyday application. An on-line support group called Netmums was concerned about the isolation, and often depression, suffered by young mothers at home. A couple of years ago, with advice from happiness expert Richard Reeves, they organised for around 1,000 young mothers to complete a happiness questionnaire. The average score was 52 out of 100. The participants were then asked to undertake a series of activities such as counting their blessings before they went to bed at night, doing a good turn for someone during the day, taking exercise and trying to halve their TV viewing. After four weeks the average happiness score rose to 64% Ė a 22% increase in merely 28 days.

When I attended the European Positive Psychology conference last time I was simply a participant. This time Iím giving a paper on what we are doing in Scotland to use Positive Psychology to help bring about some kind of cultural transformation. I know this will be of great interest to our Portuguese hosts as they also believe there is a strongly pessimistic streak in their culture. Though winning against England tonight in the World Cup might have given them a boost of optimism!

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