Could these simple ideas make the world a happier place? – Ezine April 2008

These are a few longer-range ideas. Some may be happening already. If they are, please tell me about them. I hope they may inspire you to action. They are all simple, but none of them is easy. They may challenge your assumptions. These are potential programmes or projects, not techniques.

Please let me know what you think of them.

The ideas

Cuddle therapy!

Most of us know instinctively that if a child is distressed a warm cuddle will often help. Sometimes the child may cry or get hot and angry but afterwards, things are much better. It is also a natural instinct to want to cuddle someone who is distressed. This applies to adults too!

We seem to have made being natural like this very complicated. There are a few damaged people whose experience has distorted this natural and healthy behaviour so it becomes abusive. In trying to protect other people and ourselves, many people are now deeply scared of cuddling or being cuddled, “doing what comes naturally”.

So, perhaps we need to reclaim this and be freer to ask for a cuddle whenever we need one and offer one too. We could even give them each other. Sex and closeness are not the same. You can be sexual without being close and close without being sexual. Closeness is a basic need, for humans.

Documentaries about humans at their best

David Attenborough’s films about life on Earth are both world-famous and beautiful. They now cover life in all its varieties except that of human beings! Humans are remarkable. Although we can be appallingly destructive, we are capable of greatness. Most of the “news” we read is negative.

I would live to see some documentaries about humans at their best. A series about how different cultures celebrate life events would be very interesting and inspiring. We are not very good at celebrating in the West. We often eat too much and get drunk. Other cultures do it much better. We could all learn from each other.

There is tribe in South Africa that handles miscreants very elegantly. The offender sits in the middle of a circle of all the people in the village, who tell him or her all the good things they can remember about that person. This can go on for days. Then the offender is welcomed back into the village!

Of course, “we” have some good things to pass on too. Our tradition of judicial independence is very precious.

Empower some people to be “free spirits”

A “free spirit” in this context is a person whose job is “To do whatever she or he can do to make things better”. They would be change agents and catalysts, listening to people and teams, linking people, encouraging new thinking and facilitating conversations towards win-win solutions. They would gain access to people because of their personal skills, reputation for trustworthiness and honesty, their humour and their compassion.

It would be a very great honour and privilege to do this work. Ordinary people or governments could fund it. If we had 1000 people with this role world wide, it might cost £100m a year. If one person helped organisations to solve one problem, for instance by building better understanding between competing agencies, this would easily recover the costs.

Finding the healthiest happiest people and discovering why and how

Some people are both healthy and happy. They are not necessarily “rich”. There is no evidence that material wealth, beyond quite a modest income, adds to either. It could be that these happy and healthy people are doing some things, or thinking some things that directly contribute to them being happy and healthy. If this is so, and we knew what it was, we could choose to do the same.

We could find some healthy and happy people and find out what they do and how they think. The method I have used for “profiling” successful professionals might work here too. Who knows, there might be simple things we could all do.

There are already some clues active churchgoing can add years to active life. A positive attitude to ageing can do the same.

Love politicians

This is a radical thought! Politicians are people so, however it may appear, just like us they are always doing the best they can. It may not be the best possible, but given their history and circumstances it is the best they can at the time. So blaming and criticising is no help. In any case, you can’t manage the past only learn from it.

Politicians may enjoy exercising power, but so do we all. They do decide to manage on our behalf anything that may happen. This is an awesome responsibility. All of them would earn much more in a less demanding role.

I would like to see us supporting and loving politicians rather than criticising them personally. Challenging their ideas is fine. If we elect them to help us, we should help them. One way might be to catch them doing something right and send an appreciative note. Another might be to offer some time or a listening ear. What do you think you could do?

Neighbours from heaven

I get fed up and depressed by all the television programmes that show people at their worst. They are typically called “Neighbours from hell”. I imagine the effect on the viewers is either to confirm their prejudices that people are awful or that this is all you can expect from a particular class or group of people. Neither is very productive.

So, what about some programmes e g “Neighbours from Heaven” that showed the best of people instead? These would show heart-warming stories of extraordinary generosity and kindness. Instead of depressing the viewer, they would challenge and inspire her or him to do something similar. This would increase the amount of positive energy and spirit. If might encourage more of us to pay attention to good things, and then we would feel better too.

Networking change leaders and change technologies

There are many powerful tools and methods around for helping people and society develop and learn. I have written about appreciative inquiry, re-evaluation counselling, and organisation development and know a bit about others like open-space and process consultation. There are many, many others. I would love to see some conferences and conversations where thought leaders in these fields worked out how their approaches could work together. Maybe they would find some synthesis that was much better than either. We don’t need the competition which says, “Our approach is right and we have nothing significant to learn from anyone else is”. This just slows us down.

Speak to a stranger

Many people would like our cities to be friendlier. Anyone can decide to make them friendlier by being friendly. We could decide to speak to a stranger, by asking a simple question and listening to the answer, or giving a stranger a smile. I do this even in trains, and have never been rebuffed. It is also nice to say “Thank you for the smile” when someone gives you one.

We are all strangers to most people and almost all of us are quite nice really. This might be easier with a bit of encouragement from city leaders, but we do not have to wait for permission, we can just do it.

What else could we do to make our communities and cities friendlier?

Finally, it is a long time since I wrote an Ezine. I hope this one was interesting, if different. If you have any comments or want to take up any of the ideas do let me know. Also, please let me know if there is any other subject you would like me to write about.

Best wishes


If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick