Positive Psychology: A world of human flourishing as our goal.

In brief:

The goal of radical social entrepreneurs is to build a world where everyone can flourish. Psychologists have argued that flourishing requires pleasure, meaning, and flow. While pleasure is widely provided in modern societies, we need RSE’s to building environments of meaning and flow. This requires massive innovation in law, technology, culture and community.

What is it?

Positive Psychology is the study of human well-being. Specifically, positive psychologists like University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman try to discover the conditions and habits that lead to human flourishing.

Seligman argues that human flourishing reaches much deeper than mere ‘positive emotion.’ In addition, people need engagement, interest, meaning, and purpose. Seligman also includes self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination and positive relationships.

For long term-psychological well-being, people must be engaged in meaningful activities. They have to be in environments where they are valued by others and have the opportunity to build their self-esteem in constructive ways.

Of course all of this is idle chatter if people are starving or homeless – as many are. People tend to show large gains in happiness and well-being as their countries move from poor to rich. People must be fed before they can worry about their ‘higher’ needs like philosophical or spiritual fulfillment.

Given that billions in the world still live in a state of deprivation, we can radically improve human well-being by fighting poverty as fast and effectively as we can. This means that pursuing legal entrepreneurship projects like Free Cities should be our first and most serious moral calling.

But human development does not end there.

Studies of wealthy countries suggest that as people reach a reasonably high level of wealth, they begin to crave other sources of growth and meaning. “What is wealth for?” asks Seligman, “I believe it should be in the service of well-being.” Nations like the United States and the UK show low levels of human well-being, despite their wealth.

This suggests some truth the old adage that ‘money does not by happiness.’ A positive psychologist would more likely say, “money does not buy human flourishing” – although it certainly helps.

To build a world with 7 – soon 8 – billion flourishing human beings, we need to create a world that is wealthy and humane, but also full of pathways to flow.

Positive psychology outlines three foundations for human happiness.

  1. Pleasure
  2. Meaning
  3. Flow

Perhaps surprisingly, the least important of these is pleasure. It turns out that pleasure is actually the least reliable of the three features in predicting sustainable happiness. There is an abundance of ‘cheap thrills’ in the world and, while they may certainly be fun, it’s meaning and flow that most people have difficulty finding.

Meaning is the sense that your activities are part of something greater than yourself. Your life is not being ‘wasted.’ Even relatively minor tasks, if respected and valued as a contribution to a meaningful goal, can become imbued with a sense of purpose.

Last and most important is flow: a mental state of full immersion. People talk about being ‘in the zone,’ periods of energized focus when body and mind are fully involved in an activity.

Large stretches of time seem to vanish, and a person in flow feels enthralled by the task at hand. Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee!) originally believed that achieving flow was tied to specific activities. Artists, lost in their reveries; chess players, ten steps ahead: these people became so lost in action that they had little interest in anything else.

Over time Csikszentmihalyi realized that flow was not about the particular activity – but about a state of mind. Positive psychologists then began to study the ways people – regardless of their particular work – could achieve a state of flow and maintain it all day, every day.

This comes natural to a lucky few. But most of us have to work on developing mental and emotional habits to help us reach flow. This is where you come in.

What does Positive Psychology mean for radical social entrepreneurs?

As an effort of “the Flow Project”, it may not surprise you that the goal of radical social entrepreneurship is a world of human well-being. In short: a world where people live in a state of flow.

Social entrepreneurs, almost by definition, find meaning in their work. The process of innovating, the adventure of creating new projects is a psychological reward in itself. Those devoted and working hard for a good cause are already headed toward flow in their own lives.

But radical social entrepreneurs, especially those in education and culture, must also be entrepreneurs of well-being and happiness. Successful RSEs find ways of bringing flow to others while living a life of flow themselves.

People need environments to flourish: better workplaces, more resilient communities, meaningful jobs, creative outlets, charity, and social clubs. These environments aren’t going to build themselves.

Radical social entrepreneurship is perfectly suited to bring meaning into people’s lives. Free human association, trade, and innovation in humane communities is a ‘win-win’ for all parties involved.

While building businesses and solving world problems, radical social entrepreneurs are the link bringing people the chance to pursue a lifetime in a state of flow.

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