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OPINION: Positive obsessions for gratitude and learning

As September knocks on the door, I want to share some snippets from my summer of researching the science behind positivity, gratitude and well-being.

First, a poem by American writer Octavia Butler from Parable of the Talents:

Kindness eases change.
Love quiets fear.
And a sweet and powerful
Positive obsession
Blunts pain,
Diverts rage,
And engages each of us
In the greatest,
The most intense
Of our chosen struggles.

My summer of 2020 has been a commitment to the chosen struggle of gratitude. As September knocks on the door, I want to share some snippets from my summer of researching the science behind positivity, gratitude and well-being.

A Scientific American article by American psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman answers the question: which character strengths are most predictive of well-being?

Kauffman summarizes his peer reviewed and statistically confirmed research by concluding: "If you seek high well-being, your best bets are gratitude and love of learning."

My positive obsession hits both of those targets - you?

In her book, Unlocking Happiness at Work, Calgarian Jennifer Moss writes: "If you knew that by asking your employees to simply write down three grateful things before the start of every workday, it would increase promotions, bonuses and pay, improve sales by 35 per cent, reduce coding errors by 37 per cent, even improve healthiness by reducing sick days from six to two every year, would you start the practice?

"Decades of scientific rigour in psychology and neurobiology can prove that the traits of happiness make us higher performing."

Sounds good to me - you?

Which leads me to think about parents, teachers, administrators, bus drivers, cleaning staff and students with all of their work-related September anxieties.

How can society help our local education systems to adjust? From the Gross National Happiness (GNH) website filtering metrics through a lens of "well-being and happiness," suggests we could obsess and measure the following:

  • Psychological well-being
  • Material well-being/standard of living
  • Good governance
  • Health
  • Education
  • Community vitality
  • Cultural diversity and sesilience
  • Balanced time use
  • Ecological diversity

I could easily be diverted by these kinds of positive obsessions, you?

But how can we filter our daily news and measures of success and information with well-being in mind? Part answer: constructive journalism.

For almost a decade, Danish journalist, correspondent, and news presenter, Cathrine Gyldensted has been building the science and logic behind the Constructive Journalism Project and has coined the term Co-Jo. 

Looking at the world through a lens of well-being, rather than disease, Co-Jo promotes stories that identify possibilities, growth, and strengths, rather than fall into a constant obsession about difficulty and loss. 

Glydensted suggests that Co-Jo can provide a more accurate portrayal of the world and engage audiences more effectively.

Journalism that is good for our health, not anxiety provoking, works for me. 

Which circles me back to ideas of community well-being and one of my favourite books. Peter Block's Community and The Structure of Belonging is challenging, frustrating and refreshing. 

Frustrating, because Block defines the essential challenge facing communities as the need "to transform isolation and self-interest into connectedness and caring for the whole." Frustrating, because COVID-19 shows us that we still have miles to go. 

Refreshing if we can choose to remember and read again Block's overall premise:

  1. Build the social fabric and transform the isolation within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole;
  2. Shift our conversations from the problems of the community to the possibility of the community;
  3. Commit to create a future distinct from the past.

Fear, challenge, uncertainty and anxiety countered by positive obsession.

Wise elders, poets and scientists are certain. If we look for solutions that can connect us with kindness, hope, positivity, and gratitude, we can move the needle on health, happiness and productivity.

LWC Banff is Lorraine Widmer-Carson's newest venture after working in a variety of Bow Valley community sectors for forty years. As a writer, facilitator, small business owner, nature-enthusiast, mother, wife, and active grandmother, she launched the Gratitude Project in January. The Vision: Gratitude - Know it. Show it. Grow it.