"Here's why positive psychology will never make as big an impact as it should, Sam. Most people don't want to do the work to improve their life. They don't want to know where their weaknesses are and figure out ways to be better, happier, whatever. Most people aren't like you."
Helping the Unwilling
This was said by one of my professors during a dinner conversation a couple weeks ago. My initial reaction was to disagree -- to defend humanity. But, on a certain level, I think he's right.
This isn't the type of article you normally see on a personal development website because it deals with an issue that is completely foreign to the type of person who reads a website like this. You're like me. You're taking time out of your day to actively read articles about personal development, living consciously, etc. You've already made the decision that there is some way you can improve your life and you're taking steps to figure out how to do it.
What about the people who don't read this website or others like it? What about the people who have never picked up a self-help book or strove to better understand some aspect of human psychology? I'm sure a microscopically small minority of these people are already happy and have no need to seek more information. The vast majority of these people, though, could be much happier if they decided to do something about it. For whatever reason they resist doing the work to develop the self-reflection skills to assess what is making them unhappy. They may have a vague sense of being unhappy, but are more comfortable living with that gnawing sensation then really digging into the reason for their malaise.
For some, the resistance to dig deeper is due to an unwillingness to uncover an inconvenient truth about their lives. Maybe the relationship they're in is truly toxic. Maybe the way they've been approaching their work has been nothing but a drain for 25 years. Maybe there is a well of untapped potential that will just serve as a reminder of bad decisions made when they were younger. Whatever the reason, a huge number of people don't have personal development, positive psychology, or conscious living on their day-to-day radar.
How do we reach these people?
Searching For the Mental Switch
Positive psychology has a lot to offer people -- not just people who seek it out but anyone who is at least moderately interested in improving some aspect of their life. But if there is no interest, no motivation, to seek it out then it remains closed off. What caused you to become interested in reading articles like this? Is this just how you've always been? Or was there something that "clicked" in your head that made you realize you had more control over your daily experience than you thought? This isn't a rhetorical question. I think I've always been this way -- whether it's something my parents taught me when I was very young or if it's some kind of inborn trait, I don't know.
It's not as simple as sending a link or sharing a book or talking incessantly about the latest study I heard about. Realizing and accepting that you have more control over your life also requires realizing that you have to give up control. You have to give up a sense of complacentness, of comfortable acceptance of external conditions, of a sense of knowing who you are at a very basic level. Perhaps this is profoundly pessimistic for someone who places so much time and energy in the written word, but, I don't think writing, no matter how eloquent or cogent, is usually the answer. Sure, there are some people who "see the light" after reading a particularly relevant book -- but again, I think that's a minority.
Mindfulness and Modeling
I have two ideas for potential starting points. First, I think mindfulness is the starting point for almost any self-improvement. This may be an article in and of itself, but I don't think any kind of personal development can happen without some base level of mindfulness. However, this doesn't really solve the problem because once again you're left with the question, "How do you get somebody interested in mindfulness?" If someone isn't interested in improving their life through their own action how do you convince them to begin meditating or experimenting with mindfulness?
The second approach probably has a higher chance of success but is both very indirect and time consuming. Very simply, living in such a way that makes yourself an example of the benefits someone can get from learning about personal development or positive psychology may be the best way to convince someone to change their mindset. However, it cannot be accompanied with nagging, hounding, or really any acknowledgement that you're hoping someone will take inspiration from you. If so, you're no longer a beacon of positive living, but instead someone putting on an act to coerce someone to change their own life. It's a delicate balance.
I love helping people who seek out my writing, coaching, and experience but after the jarring conversation with my professor I'm more acutely aware that we are all a minority. Me, you, and anyone else logging onto SamSpurlin.com. We all "get it." How can we help other people "get it" too?