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From crisis awareness to a positive outlook

Instead of focusing on how bad things are, maybe we should instead just be positive...


Jenna Lähdemäki-Pekkinen

Specialist (on extended leave), Foresight


While crisis awareness is important, does it lead to paralysis and prevent us from doing the right thing? Could a positive outlook be reinforced by increasing our levels of social empathy? Jenna Lähdemäki ponders this question in the Weekly Notes blog by the Sitra research team.

Last week, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper posed a question to Members of Parliament: is Finland suffering from a psychological “great depression”. I had to laugh – isn’t this obvious? We have been submerged in crisis awareness for years and may only now be touching the bottom. Crisis awareness is not as important as a positive outlook. While staying abreast of the economic situation is important, too much “crisis awareness” paralyses us and dulls invention, action and well-being.

Crisis awareness and the critical outlook it engenders are also affecting Finns’ attitudes to the well-being society. I participated in the summer seminar of the Finnish Society for Future Studies, whose topic was human dignity and the reinvention of the well-being society.

In his presentation, Professor of Welfare Sociology Juho Saari discussed issues such as the Finnish attitude towards the well-being society. Professor Saari believes that it is undergoing a crisis of legitimacy; people think that the well-being society is in worse shape than it really is. Finns are more likely to view their society as unequal than other Nordic nations. Saari believes the rise in social tensions to be one of the reasons for this crisis of legitimacy. Different social groups are living in such different worlds that they have no everyday experiences in common.

How can we convert crisis awareness into a positive outlook? How can we restore faith in the future of the well-being society?

Sitra’s vision for sustainable well-being offers an answer. We propose six interrelated principles as the building blocks of a sustainable well-being society. If executed simultaneously, these will create a strong circle of positive development. This will enable Finns to live happy and meaningful lives. We have created this vision because we believe that, to prosper, Finland needs a strong, commonly shared vision of the future based on the goal of creating a positive circle of development.

Sitra is also giving thought to the future of the well-being society at the European level, through its involvement in the international Vision Europe Summit, a partnership between leading think tanks (including The Bertlesmann Foundation, Chatham House, Bruegel and The Jacques Delors Institute). The theme of such co-operation in 2015 was the future of the European well-being model. Joint activities will culminate in the Vision Europe Summit event, to be held in Berlin this year with the theme “The welfare state – problem or solution?”

Eeva Hellström, in charge of Vision Europe Summit co-operation at Sitra, writes that one of the tasks of the well-being society is to invest in the future, i.e. in human and social capital. Discussion on this topic has gathered pace, as the European Commission has urged member states to make social investments in order to modernise their well-being societies.

Could a positive outlook be boosted by developing our level of social empathy? Jeremy Rifkin writes that empathy is one of the answers to major problems such as global injustice. Empathy is a prime human characteristic. By studying mirror neurons, researchers have found that, rather than being self-interested and aggressive, human beings are naturally sociable, affectionate and companionable. Empathy can be realised by, say, arranging a clothes collection for the people living in the Kaarlenkatu reception centre, or by challenging yourself to step into somebody else’s shoes. According to Rifkin, empathy is the basis of civilised conduct.

Weekly notes is a summary of topical issues by Sitra’s strategy and research team. The Weekly Notes are gathered here.

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