I say happiness, you say… Money can’t buy it? Society has lost its way? Get away hippie?!

Although we talk about our pursuit of happiness among friends and family, a quick check on the extent to which happiness is a conscious pursuit of our every day will often reveal its low position on our To Do lists.

I mean life’s hard, you have to be tough, and no one is putting smiley stamps on your progress reports.

If you think you’re missing the point of life, you’re in professional company. The overwhelming body of historic and contemporary work in psychology is focused on negative mental health and conditions: depression, violence, poor self-esteem, anxiety. Psychology has much less to say about character strengths, virtues, and the conditions that lead to high levels of happiness or engagement in society.

This guys puts it well:

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

That was Robert F Kennedy. In 1968. Not today, but 47 years ago. Five decades later and the great majority of politicians, economists and journalists still talk money, debt and crises. It feels like whole-of-society conditioning in negativity.

Fortunately, there is a growing field of thought and practice – Positive Psychology – that provides useful frameworks for health promotion, community engagement and marketing strategists.

Positive psychology health promotion considers the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions. It uses research insights to support interventions for the achievement of a satisfactory life and subjective well-being rather than treating mental illness when it occurs.

In forming a strategy, practitioners consider and assess:

  • The target audience group’s biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions/settings
  • The target audience group’s states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, and self awareness
  • Information and communication interfaces or paths: social systems and institutions
  • Channels and tools to create and promote  positive experiences, enduring psychological traits, positive relationships (inc. positive institutions)

Sound, theoretical? You should read the academic papers as we have. Being succinct is not a value, strength or virtue of the research community!

But theory is good. Using these points as questions for a communications team tasked with tackling a health issue will result in more accurate empathy mapping, tactics and messaging that appeals to deeper emotions and gets results.

Health promotion needs to go further than awareness, in needs to trigger behavioural change. It’s not a campaign about change, it is the driver of change.

Countless studies demonstrate that, when asked, most of us rate happiness and life satisfaction as the most important life goals.

We need to use that knowledge as a guiding principle in health promotion and public relations. Acknowledge fear or negative impacts but create pathways for finding and creating happiness.

Done well, positive psychology health promotion has the potential to reduce incidences of negative health impacts and build a happier more aware society that achieves more and, yes commentators, costs less.

Talk to us about using positive psychology health promotion in your work.

 Image credit: Paul L Dineen via Flickr Creative Commons