And when we do, we trigger hope, we trigger the elevation effect, and we trigger happiness; this is science. So what I’m asking you to do is to become a positive detective, to go out into the world and commit yourself to finding at least one example every day of moral excellence and share that example with others. And parents, please share that example with your children. Our children need to grow up knowing that the vast majority of us are good and decent. They need to grow up knowing that they’re part of a human-kind. And they need to grow up with hope.
So my invitation to all of us is to become a positive detective. But I also need to let you know that with that invitation, I’ve also attached a warning label. And the label reads like this, “Warning, being positive is not for the faint-hearted”. My experience as a positive psychology researcher? In that experience, I’ve been on the receiving end of scorn, mockery, derision, and outright aggression.
There are people who have been hostile towards me because I’ve chosen a career as a positive psychologist. And to give you a recent example, I joined Twitter two months ago – finally got with the program – and in a space of two months I have two trolls. I know, what’s up with that? – When I first told my colleagues that I was shifting my research focus over to positive psychology, I had a number of my colleagues treat me as if I had also just automatically dropped 20 IQ points. And it’s weird because these were the researchers, who, the year before, had awarded me a prize for excellence in research. You know that t-shirt that says, “I’m with stupid,” and it has an arrow that points to someone else? I felt like when I was walking into the faculty staff room, they were looking at me as if I was wearing that t-shirt, it said “I’m with stupid,” but the arrow was pointing at me.
And here’s the crazy thing: when I was studying stress in the workplace, I was deemed to be a rigorous researcher. But when I shifted my focus across to study gratitude and virtue in the workplace, I was classified as an academic lightweight even though I was using the same scientific methodologies and publishing in the same high-quality journals. I was devalued because I chose to focus on the positive.
Now luckily for me, five years ago, I teamed up with professor Field Rickards at the University of Melbourne, and he’s transforming education in Australia. He also understands the importance, and the meaning, and the value of taking a positive approach.
So, with his help, and with the help of some significant other people at the university, and outside of the university, over the last five years, we’ve now been able to build a center for positive psychology at the University of Melbourne – Yes, yes! – Thank you. So persistence pays off, but I want to bring us back to this warning label. Being positive is not for the faint-hearted, and it’s hard to stay positive when there is so much negative news around us. If you choose to take my advice, if you choose to become a positive detective, if you choose to spread positive news, be prepared for a negative backlash.
And I thought about this a lot, given my own experience in the last ten years, and this is what I’ve come to understand. If you choose to be a person who shines light on the good things in the world, you are actually acting in a way that is counterculture, you are going against the dominant message of fear and scarcity. And if you act in a way that’s counterculture, you will receive a backlash. But for me, I think this is even more reason why we need to share positive news; because the more positive news we share, the less dominant those negative messages become.
And for me personally, I can tell you that in the last ten years, every time I’ve been at the receiving end of scorn, mockery, derision, hostility, every time I’ve bounced back, and I thought, “This is even more reason why I need to keep doing what I’m doing.”
The other thing that I’ve discovered, in closing, in reflecting on why I’ve received this negative backlash – when in the first ten years in my career, I was studying the negative phenomena, and I never received any of this stuff – is that there are people out there who genuinely believe that our negative qualities are somehow more real and more important than our positive qualities. I have to say to you, I will never understand that mentality; because how can this version of human nature be more real and more important than this version of human nature?
My call to action is simple: if every single one of us commits to being a positive detective, to sharing our own good news and to spreading the good news of others, we set off hope, we set off the elevation effect, and we set off happiness, and we really can make a collective difference to the world. If we are truly committed to the ideas worth spreading, we need to start spreading a few of our own.