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2011 in Review: Positive Psychology in China

written by Timothy So and Cuimei Zhang 29 December 2011

Timothy So, Msc, is a PhD candidate in Psychology in the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry. He is a Research Associate of Cambridge University's Well-being Institute and a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. Timothy is also responsible for both the Traditional and the Simplified Chinese PPND sites. Full bio. Timothy writes on the 18th of each month and his articles are here and here.

Cuimei Zhang is a senior student at Smith College, currently pursuing a double major in Psychology and Economics. She has worked on two research projects in UPenn's Positive Psychology Center and in an NIH-funded psychology project at Smith College. Her leadership experience in founding two non-profit organizations in China also inspired her to explore positive organizational psychology. Cuimei is a senior member of Global Chinese Positive Psychology Association. Cuimei's articles are here.

What labels would you use for today’s China? Powerful economic integration? Huge population? Strong education?

Ms. Lin Yang

An entrepreneur and famous journalist in China, Ms Lan Yang has been called “the Oprah of China.” She recently gave a TED talk titled The Generation that’s Remaking China, capturing vivid images of today’s China. To these images, we add that a vibrant, science-based well-being movement is already in full swing in China, well launched in 2011.

According to Martin Seligman, if we are to reach the Flourish 51 goal, that 51% of the world’s population be flourishing by the year 2051, China, having the world’s largest population, has an important role to play. Indeed, 2011 is the “Year of Well-being” for China. Positive psychology has attracted so much attention from the government, academic institutes, business corporations, media, and individuals, forming a magnificent movement toward well-being.

Wen Jiabao

Government Investment in Well-being

After three decades of strong economic growth, China is now focusing on the well-being of her 1.3 billion citizens. In the National People’s Congress in March 2011, “well-being” became a keyword as many representatives argued that the central government should take the well-being of the people, rather than economic growth, as the highest priority. In the official congress report of 12th Five-Year Plan period that laid out China’s next five-year plan (2011-2015), Premier Minister Wen Jiabao set a lower goal for GDP growth, and focused more on improving people’s lives and well-being.

Local governments in China also actively take well-being as their goal. For example, Guangdong, the richest province in China, officially set “Happy Guangdong” as its goal for the next five years. Campaigns for “Harmony Society” and “Citizen Happiness” have been kicked off among cities in China.

Academic, Business, and Media Investment

Many academic institutes invested effort in researching the science of well-being and positive psychology. For example, with Timothy So as co-chair, Tsinghua University and the United Nations Human Rights Council are organizing the 2nd International Positive Psychology Conference of China in 2012 with Martin Seligman as keynote speaker.

Many well-being workshops have been provided by state-owned and private corporations. Health museums have offered workshops combining Traditional Chinese Medicine with positive psychology.

Media is also contributing to the well-being movement. As a noteworthy pioneer in media involvement in well-being, Ms. Yang Lan, shows that media can generate an unassailable impact on many Chinese individuals, especially on women. Under the Sun Media Group that she founded, she promotes the science of well-being, hoping to reach the whole Chinese community through a series of media activities. One example is Her Village, a show dedicated “to help young women find, create, and pass on happiness through a positive lifestyle and attitude.

   Lin Yang and Timothy So

Ms. Yang is also looking to influence very high-level political and business leaders. Recently, she presented her insights about happiness and success in her book titled I Asked One of the World (in Chinese, not available in English> based on her interviews with more than 500 of the best brains and leaders in the world including Bill Gates, Hilary Clinton, and Tony Blair. She has invited Martin Seligman to be interviewed next year during his 2012 China visit. She has also invited Timothy So to be her partner on her Happiness Quotient program.

A great deal has happened around the world since 1999 when Seligman and others started the field of positive psychology. As described above, positive psychology is having an important influence on Chinese life. Inspired by the insights of many western studies as well as the amazing articles on PPND, we hope to see more scientific research in China and more applications in Chinese media, policies, corporations, and home life. With 2011 as a powerful launch point, we look forward to more interactions with the western community as we work together to achieve the goal of Flourish 51.

picture of Wen Jiabao from Wikimedia. All other images used with permission from the GCPPA.

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Yukun Zhao 29 December 2011 - 11:23 am

Inspiring and encouraging review, Timothy and Cuimei! Thanks for the great work!

Elaine O'Brien 29 December 2011 - 11:58 am

Dear Timothy and Cuimei, Thanks for the wonderful information, update and for your contributions to the 51% flourishing! This is great news! For me, being a part of the first China Positive Positive Psychology conferences last year was indeed a high point moment in my professional life. So happy to hear about the positive momentum building around well-being in China, and about plans for next year’s events.
All best wishes, Elaine

Luis M Neto 29 December 2011 - 1:27 pm

Absolutely impressive! From a very tiny country (Portugal) I wish all the best for this coming together of a new China and a new Psychology, utilitarian and consequent and not only in and for western academia. Since I’m related with research on positive nations and communities, I was wondering if someone would like to write a chapter for a book I’m planning from the chinese perspective on that topic.

Cuimei Zhang 5 January 2012 - 4:25 pm

Hey Yukun, I am glad that you like this article. Hope GCPPA will achieve more significant progresses to promote positive psychology in China.

Cuimei Zhang 5 January 2012 - 4:32 pm

Hi Elaine, thank you for your encouragement! As a Chinese who is passionate about positive psychology, I am also looking forward to contribution from China towards the 51% flourishing goal! Happy new year!

Cuimei Zhang 5 January 2012 - 4:48 pm

Hi Luis, I can see the interactions between Portugal and China from your comment. It is also exciting to hear your work on positive nations and communities. I believe that you can find many meaningful information based on today’s positive events in China. Look forward to reading your book!

Nancy Chen 21 March 2012 - 4:08 am

Hi, Cuimei,
How excited! This is exactly what I am seeking for from BJ.
Where will you and Seligman come to BJ in 2012?
I plan to meet you and discuss how to join you to take this forward.
I am an executive coach here in BJ.
Many thanks. Best, Nancy

Nancy Chen 21 March 2012 - 4:11 am

How are join GCPPA? Thanks. Best, Nancy


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