Book review: ‘Creating the world we want to live in’
Book authors: Bridget Grenville-Cleave, Dora Gudmundsdottir, Felicia Huppert, Vanessa King, David Roffey, Sue Roffey and Marten de Vries.
A common expression amongst EPs is ‘give psychology away’.
The expression has its roots in a speech given by George Miller, the president of the American Psychological Association in 1969. In 1969, the Vietnam war claimed thousands of lives, the counterculture protested social inequalities, and the Cold War simmered. Miller’s intention was to highlight the revolutionary potential of psychology to provide solutions to humankind’s challenges.
With the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the remerging tensions between the Cold War powers, Miller’s address feels very relevant. How can psychology address the big issues and contribute to solving contemporary global challenges? What should my contribution be? This book offers compelling ideas and practical steps to address these questions.
A book with ambitious scope
It is a book of ambitious scope split into five sections. Part A introduces positive psychology, and five principles for psychological wellbeing, including:
- a strengths-based approach
- and a sense of meaning.
These are underpinned by core capabilities, including: open mind (mindful awareness), open heart (kindness and compassion), and clear thinking (informed appraisal). These core capabilities inform our ability to take ‘wise action’, characterised by understanding the complexity of a situation and choosing outcomes which provide the greatest benefits.
Part B examines the foundations for a good life and covers major life events including childhood, education, work, and ageing. Each chapter addresses the big issues and musters an impressive range of ideas and science to do so. As a TEP I was drawn to the childhood chapter, which explores the social impact of how children are raised, wellbeing, key stages of development, masculinity, neurodiversity, and the characteristics of parenting conducive to flourishing.
Despite covering a lot of information, I found the writing succinct and the arguments easy to follow. Each chapter features prompts to encourage reflection on key themes, and case studies to provide concrete examples. Chapters conclude with an ‘Ideas for Action Section’, with suggestions for governments, communities, schools, families, and individuals.
Flourishing in all aspects of life
Part C covers the foundations for everyday flourishing, such as relationships, health, community, and leisure. The relationships chapter discusses their necessity for our wellbeing and the importance of a positive sense of self. The chapter on health covers both physical and mental health, the mind-body connection, managing stress and pain, and the role of mindfulness in promoting wellbeing as well as the social determinants of health.
The chapter on community discusses building flourishing communities, whilst the one on leisure discusses play and non-work activities as critical for wellbeing. In these chapters, the authors deftly shift between theory and practical action. For example, a theoretical discussion on the benefits of leisure, is juxtaposed alongside an example from Iceland subsidising leisure activities for 6–18-year-olds. This brought the discussion alive and provided an example of theory in action.
Social media, society, politics and the environment
Part D of the book addresses some of the most challenging topics we face, including media, society, economics, politics, and the environment. In the spirit of the book, these chapters avoid focusing on what is wrong (and let’s face it, there’s a lot!), and instead offers a constructive exploration and positive suggestions.
The media chapter discusses social media and the spike in its use during the pandemic. It highlights some of the pitfalls of this, such as it being a tool for consumer manipulation and false information. This chapter also discusses how we can reclaim the media for social good, with examples from community initiatives.
I found this chapter particularly poignant given the influence social media has in the lives of young people. The society chapter offers a clear outline of what positive psychology offers to address social issues. The authors provide strategies to improve social connection and highlight the importance of self-determination, strategies to address discrimination, inequality and improve public safety, pointers for a positive criminology, strategies to empower women, and reflections on unemployment and its social impact.
The authors makes the case for a political system conducive to flourishing, with an emphasis on evidence-based policies and healthy debate. Given the fractured and somewhat stale state of politics currently, I found this view refreshing. This chapter also discusses grass roots politics and people powered change.
The book’s penultimate chapter discusses the environment, and the close link between our physical surroundings and our wellbeing. As in previous chapters, the authors skilfully shift between micro and macro issues. For example, they provide a compelling discussion on emotions and their link to environmentally friendly behaviour, alongside how we can restructure the economy to support sustainability.
The final chapter offers a sobering reflection on the impact of the pandemic, and the issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. It also challenges us to choose wise action, and to consider our individual role in transcending our limiting egos, and embracing long-term, collective, and systemic responses to bring about positive social change.
My views are heavily rooted in humanistic psychology, so much of this book resonated with me. Some may feel the scope of the book is too ambitious, or they may prefer a more focused discussion of some of the topics. But I think the book’s expansive view is what makes it so exciting.
Like Miller’s speech, the book illuminates the revolutionary potential of psychology. When I feel disheartened or teetering on the edge of cynicism, I will return to this book for fresh inspiration and a glimpse of what could be – a perfect summer read.
Find out more
Sue Roffey has written an article for The Psychologist about this book
You can get this book here at Hive