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The Happiness Connection  

What on earth led to Brexit?

It finally happened. On Friday, 1,316 days after voting to leave the European Union, Britain severed its ties with Europe.

The result of the referendum on June 23, 2016, was close. Fifty-two percent voted in favour of leaving while forty-eight percent wanted to stay. 

This wasn’t the outcome the government was expecting. It wasn’t the result many Brits imagined either. So how did it happen?

This question has been the centre of speculation by many, including a group of psychology PhD candidates at the University of Cambridge. They turned to cognitive psychology for insight.

Their study included more than 300 subjects. Each was given tasks to determine whether they had a tendency towards cognitive flexibility or cognitive persistence. In other words, did they adapt easily to change, or did they prefer things to stay the same?

They also looked to see if each group shared other commonalities that might affect how they voted. 

It turns out that those people who tended towards cognitive persistence, or found change more challenging to deal with, tended to support nationalistic ideals and wanted Britain to leave the EU.

Those who were cognitively flexible, or able to roll with the punches when change appeared, were less interested in nationalism. For the most part, this group believed that the UK should remain in the EU.

If you aren’t sure what nationalistic beliefs are, think about Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan, or the idea of building a wall to keep immigrants out. 

Nationalism is defined by Oxford Dictionary as identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.

Imagine the effect you could have if you suggested that staying in Europe would spell the demise of a great country like Britain. 

As it happened, immigration was a hot topic during the Brexit campaign. It was a perfect way to spark nationalism.

You might think that people who don’t change easily, would vote to remain in Europe. Wouldn’t they want things to stay the same?

Many Brits never liked being part of the EU. They felt they had lost their voice and autonomy.

I suspect that many cognitively persistent people thought leaving meant they could return to the old days, before Europe banded together. This is something they knew, or at least had heard about. 

This idea also appealed to their nationalistic beliefs.

Perhaps this study also explains why Donald Trump got into power. He appealed to the same demographic.

Excuse me for getting onto my soapbox for a moment, but the Earth is in trouble. I believe the only way to rescue it and its inhabitants, is to work together as a global community, not as a multitude of individual ones.

That is unlikely to happen if you get caught up in nationalism. It will take focusing on what is best for the greater good, not just what serves you and me.

Is it possible that by learning how to be more flexible and able to adjust to change, that you might not only be more successful and happier, but you could also help the world become more cooperative and inclusive?

It’s food for thought.



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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com



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