Portugal: Pessimistic to Positive
Right at the tail end of 2012 I was sitting around a table in Porto with a group of psychologists and economists asking why Portuguese well-being was so low – Portugal hovers near the bottom of European league tables. There was a heavy air of pessimism. Reasons given included the 2008 economic crisis, a government that appears to have given up advising young people to find work abroad, the legacy of dictatorship which ruled Portugal up until the seventies, the chronic sleep deprivation and overwork upsetting the life balance, even the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was offered as a reason why the Portuguese are so down. A former government minister hinted that they were out of answers. To me it sounded like a case of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – Albert Einstein’s definition of madness. And yet people seemed to be on the treadmill of doing the same old same old, expecting that somehow the results would change and things would pick up. It reminds me of the phrase from NLP ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got’.
Having a strength in innovation I encourage people to think ‘outside the box’ citing Einstein’s other great quote -“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Wise words that politicians should act on instead of offering tired answers that maintain the status quo. To grow you need to be in a ‘growth mindset’ – able to experiment with different approaches and learn from what happens. If it works then great. If it doesn’t turn out right, well at least you know to try something different. This gentle approach enables you to take a risk.
I found cause for optimism even though the people I met then were sounding pessimistic. Portugal has many natural advantages – a benign climate, healthy diet of fish, fruit and vegetables and lush, green land. I noticed patches of rough land – by rivers and roads – were being cultivated with fertile produce.
I’ve been back to Portugal a couple of times since then and on this most recent trip again asked people if they were optimistic or pessimistic about the future. This time I heard a new answer – cautious optimism. The green shoots I’d spotted in the land are being mirrored in the Portuguese spirit. I met a lecturer in management who moonlights as an organic farmer – literally by moonlight as he does biodynamic farming. His passion is growing his own food. I wonder if there will be a return to the land as people make the most of Portugal’s fertile land. I met switched-on people who truly get that we are in a paradigm shift with how we earn money. The era of full employment is over in Europe – jobs have been outsourced to developing nations such as China, India and Brazil. If you want to make progress you need to think beyond employment and more in terms of creating your own work. It is possible – it’s something I’ve been doing for the best part of a decade but it does require a shift in mindset. Maturity helps too. I met people in mid-life who are going back to university to study applied positive psychology. People who are retraining so that they can make a difference in a very practical way. Lots of fascinating ways in which they are experimenting with positive psychology – with disaffected young people, bringing love into courtroom divorce proceedings, even plans to bring the Happy City Initiative to Lisbon. And fascinating results – like a communal oven which is bringing a whole village together to raise community well-being.
Plenty of seeds are being planted in Portugal and the green shoots are already appearing. I look forward to see how they come to fruition as Portugal progresses from pessimistic to positive.
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