- Do you want to make this world a better place?
- Do you dream of a sustainable future where humans, animals and their ecosystems can live in harmony?
- Do you wonder why so many people appear apathetic in the face of the pressing issues of today and do you want to encourage others to get more involved in a cause that is close to your heart?
- Are you interested in psychology and wonder why we as humans act as we do?
In 2011 Niki taught a new graduate class at Auckland University on Psychology and Sustainability. I was lucky enough to be enrolled in the class and it was while reading the course book (a draft edition of Psychology for a Better World) that I was inspired to start this blog.
Psychology for a Better World explores the themes of positive emotions, imitation, identity and morality as they relate to the sustainability movement and provides thoughtful and practical advice for sustainability advocates on how they can be more effective change-makers in their own communities. Niki has written the book specifically for sustainability advocates but the insights and advice are equally applicable to all who work for the social good.
Throughout, Niki’s writing style is conversational – she works hard to make the research she discusses accessible for all and shares many personal anecdotes from her own life to bring the ideas to life. I have read the book three times now and each time I get a richer understanding and new ideas for my work and passions.
As a kind of sampling plate, here are a few of the insights that I was particularly struck by:
- Keep it positive, avoid scare tactics – Positive emotions broaden our sense of what we can do, whereas negative emotions narrow this sense. … Positive emotions are therefore conducive to creativity, expansion, and looking for and seizing opportunities (p. 15)
- The power of imitation – When it comes to sustainability, our capacity to copy provides opportunities and limitations. It keeps us hooked into the unsustainable patterns being demonstrated around us. However, it also means that people who display alternatives can be and often are copied, allowing the possibility for new patterns to form (p. 34) / If you want to encourage sustainability, be visibly sustainable yourself and leave behind as many behavioural traces as you can (p.48)
- We seek social norms – Implying that pro-environmental behaviour is normal has been shown to be a more powerful way to encourage that behaviour than direct pleas to protect the planet (p. 45)
- Making your voice heard – Minority positions are often initially resisted … A minority is usually more influential is their argument is consistent over time … [and] minorities have more influence when they provide or rely on objective information than when they offer subjective opinions (p. 101)
- Moral leadership – Be as moral as you can be in your own practices. This will increase your credibility, draw others to you, and allow you to be a leader, if that is what you want. But accept too, that none of us can be moral alone … Remember to spend most of your time (if possible) with those who have the same values as you, as these people will keep you strong (p. 157)
Psychology for a Better World is available for FREE download here. If you are old-fashioned like me, and prefer a paper books (that you can scribble notes in) you can order a real-world copy from Niki here.