Culture can be positive, negative, created through language, dance, fashion, music, writing, painting, education, organisations and any other way in which our bodies, identity and the social world mutually shape each other. I importantly want to address quickly the importance of avoiding dualisms by looking at culture as a whole, with both the negative and the positive which helps to see the interrelatedness of both these forces as they operate at every level of our lives.
The wonderful student community of the world are weaving Positive Psychology into the fabric of our many different cultures through every medium that defines our highly varied and in many ways similar cultures.
As a Positive Psychology student, I have connected with an amazing community who are making waves in research, in their practices and in their communities. But, they are also changing our cultures. How could or are you influencing your culture positively? We would love to find out, so please share your story with the following email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heena Parbhu: Bhutan
SIPPA Conference and Events Co-chair, UK
Bad things can be seen to be overrepresented within our society (Eschholz, 1997), and this can feel overwhelming and daunting. It can create fear and anxiety in individuals especially in regards to media and news exposure (Chiricos, Eschholz & Gertz, 1997; Chiricos, Padgett & Gertz, 2000; Nellis & Savage, 2012). The worst thing it can do is desensitise individuals through the monotonous repetition of the negative (Crouse et al., 1985; Deffenbacher, 1976; Dunney et al., 1983; Wolpe, 1973). For this reason many good things are at risk of going unnoticed, becoming overshadowed. This is likely to be attributed to the fact that negative emotions tend to have a longer lifespan for us than their positive counterparts, which are arguably more fleeting (Fredrickson, 2004; 2013). Taking into regard the effect of negative emotions, we need to create more positive moments and experiences to counterbalance the overarching feelings of the bad. It becomes imperative to encourage the focus on delivering effective, humanistic, moral and ethical work. And thus, we will be both exploring and celebrating the contributions of organisations and culture that push for a healthier and happier workforce and community.
You may know that within March falls an International day of positivity celebration and awareness: the UN International Day of Happiness (Monday 20th March, 2017). The day holds aims to create and encourage a happier world. So it only seems appropriate to top–up our understanding of positivity by focusing on an entire country which has achieved much praise for its approach in heightening happiness: Bhutan.
Bhutan is a country located within the Himalayan range, bordered by both India and China. It is known as the Last Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom. Buddhism was introduced to Bhutan within the 7th Century (Bhutan: brief history, 2015). The country, like many other nations, experienced civil disputes, colonial difficulty and war, but has somehow managed to keep intact its reputation as “the happiest place in the world” (Buncombe, 2012). It is the only known country to measure happiness (Gross National Happiness) as a way of tracking progression and uses this to influence governmental change and policy. The Prime Minister of Bhutan states:
“At the end of the day…At the end of a hard day, if our people are not happier, not more prosperous, more content, then the purpose of development must be questioned.” (Henretig, 2016 Crossing Bhutan)
There has been some controversy into how happy Bhutan actually is (please see Buncombe, 2012 for more information), even still it is evident that it is a popular location for travellers captivated by the potential it presents.
In an attempt to unravel its mystery and how happiness can be achieved, a team of four athletes travelled from border-to-border within a documentary: Crossing Bhutan.
The trailer allures its audience to the notion of natural happiness through the visual stimuli of stunning landscapes, with the perfect white, icy finish on the mountain range and vivid green trees, standing tall. Bhutan is referred to as “Isolated from the world”. The statement coupled with the visual representations produce a strong sense of a heaven-on-earth for the audience: sacred and unharmed by the human touch. It seems very untainted. The focus is very much on protecting integrity, connoted by the fact 60% of the forests in Bhutan are protected by the Government. This further amplifies the notion that Bhutan is very much unique in taking action. We care for the integrity and respect of the land and therefore we must actively protect it.
During the first few clips, ideologies that nature is happy and beautiful and undemanding, may pop into the mind of the viewer, however this is quickly interrupted through the juxtaposition to images of a high street with all matter of electronics, watches and dining-ware for sale. The modern western world has also been integrated. You may be quaking in your boots, thinking “well that didn’t last very long. Good riddance to the happiest country.” Yes! Essentially they have become much like many countries that hold both traditional and western modern culture, (a term that a fervently dislike, as culture is chosen not simply imposed). But, they are still seen as the happiest nation. Normally, the merge of different values of the Individual and the Collective “us” (Abdel-Fattah, Darwish & Huber, 2003) would be linked to crises of identity (Jetten et al, 2002), especially within the youth (Archer, 1989). This is related to conflict and pressure within accepting and rejecting parts of two very different cultures in hopes to construct your identity. Despite this, the viewer is invited to witness the unrestricted practice of availability and curious discovery, whilst also exploring traditional paradigms to the self. Walking the Middle Path.
“We like the modern fashions. But there is a difference between like and love; we love our own culture.”
Nothing to internally war over, no crisis! Perhaps the key, therefore, for a content understanding of one’s self, is unrestricted exposure to all parts of your world – to freely engage in what you feel and see.
It will be interesting to watch the screening itself to surmise whether this is truly the case and whether such assumptions are justified. The main question that still echoes for many, including myself, is simple. Could we learn to be happier? The Documentary is seen to be thought provoking and therefore championed by many organisations including Action for Happiness.
Action for Happiness have also organised a viewing of the Documentary which will be followed by an in-depth discussion by a range of speakers. Speakers include Felipe Viveros, the European lead at the GNH centre Bhutan; Alan Williams – the founder of the Global Values Alliance; and Nancy Hey, the Director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. The event goes ahead on Wednesday 22nd March in London. I am confident that there will be more to see from Crossing Bhutan and from Bhutan itself. In the meantime, for your enquiry and curiosity, there are links below that you are invited to look through.
We invite you to view their trailer using the link below and contribute your own thoughts on GNH. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PuIphMhzG0
Archer, S. L. (1989). Gender differences in identity development: Issues of process, domain and timing. Journal of Adolescence, 12(2), 117-138.
Bhutan: brief history (2015). Navyo Nepal Discover Asia. N.p., 2017. Web accessed on 14 Mar. 2017 using:
Buncombe, A. (2012) “Is Bhutan The Happiest Place In The World?” The Independent. N.p., 2017. Web access on 14 Mar. 2017 using: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthy-living/is-bhutan-the-happiest-place-in-the-world-6288053.html
Chiricos, T., Eschholz, S., & Gertz, M. (1997). Crime, news and fear of crime: Toward an identification of audience effects. Social problems, 44(3), 342-357.
Chiricos, T., Padgett, K., & Gertz, M. (2000). Fear, TV news, and the reality of crime. Criminology, 38(3), 755-786.
Crouse, R. H., Deffenbacher, J. L., & Frost, G. A. (1985). Desensitization for students with different sources and experiences of test anxiety. Journal of College Student Personnel.
Darwish, A. F. E., & Huber, G. L. (2003). Individualism vs collectivism in different cultures: a cross-cultural study. Intercultural Education, 14(1), 47-56.
Deffenbacher, J. L. (1976). Group desensitization of dissimilar anxieties. Community mental health journal, 12(3), 263-266.
Denney, D. R., Rupert, P. A., & Burish, T. G. (1983). Skin conductance biofeedback and desensitisation for Reducing dental anxiety. American Journal of Clinical Biofeedback, 6(2), 88-95.
Eschholz, S. (1997). The media and fear of crime: A survey of the research. U. Fla. JL & Pub. Pol’y, 9, 37.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broadens and builds. The psychology of gratitude, 145-166.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Positive emotions broaden and build. Advances in experimental social psychology, 47(1), 53.
Jetten, J., Postmes, T., & McAuliffe, B. J. (2002). ‘We’re all individuals’: group norms of individualism and collectivism, levels of identification and identity threat. European Journal of Social Psychology, 32(2), 189-207.
Nellis, A. M., & Savage, J. (2012). Does watching the news affect fear of terrorism? The importance of media exposure on terrorism fear. Crime & Delinquency, 58(5), 748-768.
Wolpe, J. (1973). The practice of behavior therapy. Pergamon.
I would like to offer a heart-felt and great special thanks to all of the contributors to this letter and to all the inspiring individuals who volunteer with and support this great community. Thank you to our new and wonderful SIPPA Executive Team and Regional Representatives. To Jenny Brennan and Taylor Damiani for supporting SIPPA over the last few months, to connect our division closely to all of IPPA and helping create our future. Thank you to Alireza for being such a warm and welcoming leader, who expresses his passion and belief in the whole team always. Thank you to Heena Parbhu for writing such an inspiring and well thought out and thoughtful piece on Bhutan. Thank you to Sarah and Sierra our amazingly effective Mentoring co-chairs, you are very inspiring and I really look forward to our event at the world congress! Thank you to Alex Landau and Heena for creating such an engaging student speaker series, this is really amazing. Thank you to Arun Gurung, our communications co-chair for being so supportive and making such a great contribution to everything we do. Thank you also, to Erna van der Westhuizen and Sully Colon, our membership and recruitment co-chairs for your wonderful contribution to SIPPA over the years, it is sad to see you move but we very much look forward to supporting you in your future, which looks amazing.