I always feel conflicted about Thanksgiving. For some, Thanksgiving can be a painful reminder of dysfunctional childhoods or a time that puts into stark relief how some have so much and others have so little. I don’t feel good celebrating the way in which European-Americans took over the land of Native Americans after having received lifesaving kindness. But I do feel good about the idea of taking time to give thanks and to be thoughtful about all we do have to be thankful for. I know more and more people who are taking time in their daily lives to focus for a few minutes on what they are grateful for and have found this practice to be rewarding and contributing to increased personal well-being.
I have so much to be thankful for, more than I can properly share here. But the short version would be: my daughter (my favorite human!), my dog (my favorite non-human), the various family and friends in my life whom I love, and the opportunity to do work I love and find deeply meaningful. You’re probably aware of the growing body of research that tells us how important it is to seek meaning for well-being and happiness in the deepest senses of the word. “The capacity to find meaning in life is paramount in the human capacity to flourish” (Allan, Duffy & Douglass, 2015).
When we think about health equity at Healthy Gen, we also think about the research on childhood trauma and adversity and its definitive link to adult chronic disease and a multiplicity of undesirable outcomes. Although we know that ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) are both common and that they cross all socioeconomic categories, when ACES and poverty (a form of newly researched toxic stress in its own right) come together, it’s a brutal pairing. I shared with you recently about my experience last year hosting a training on ACEs with Healthy Gen’s Laura Porter and our colleague, the researcher, Christopher Blodgett. You remember how I told you that Chris said “relationship IS the evidence based practice?” He also said that “poverty is the gasoline poured on the fire that is ACEs… poverty takes away choices.” Pretty stark and compelling imagery, isn’t it? So you can understand why we think of ACEs and toxic stress as critical to our journey to create enduring health equity. And yes, I do suggest you bring Chris in to teach at your next opportunity! Think of all the great quotes you’re going to get!
I agree with Chris. I believe that one of the keys to enduring health equity is us. Our human connection to each other. The work can be hard and stressful but not all stress is bad. In fact, stress researcher Kelly McGonigal teaches us how to befriend stress in her entertaining and informative TED talk. In it she says one of my favorite things: “your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.” Watch to the end during the Q & A when she offers this great advice: “one thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. And so I would say that's really the best way to make decisions, is go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.” Beautiful!
I had another opportunity for deep gratitude recently when I interviewed one of the country’s leading researchers on hope, Dr. Chan Hellman. No, I can’t tell you why. Ok, I could tell you why, but then I’d have to kill you. Kidding! ;-) I CAN tell you that Dr. Hellman is the founding director of the Center for Applied Research for Non-Profit Organizations at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa where he is also Associate Dean at the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor in the Department of Human Relations. He has his PhD in Educational Psychologies specializing in research, evaluation, measurement and statistics. So, basically he’s super smart! Turns out he’s also a highly amiable and enjoyable person to interview.
Even better news, Chan will be a speaker at our Science of HOPE conference coming up in April where he will share his fascinating research and some useful tools for us all to put to use (Get registered while the early bird option is still available).
Turns out that hope is an amazing predictor of wellbeing in many categories! This gets exciting, people! Chan is also participating with us on one of the coolest projects I’ve yet had the privilege to be part of. Stay tuned for updates down the road…
Meanwhile, let me tell you that during the interview, Chan said the most amazing thing. He said “hope is a social gift.” He was explaining how hope has two key components: pathways and agency. Pathways refers to our capacity to generate mental strategies, or pathways, to obtain our goals and agency refers to our capacity to dedicate mental energy, or agency, towards both the pursuit - the pathways - as well as sustaining the desirability of the goals.
Every day, we are either helping others see and/or achieve their goals or creating barriers. We ARE each other’s pathways. Research that shows having an adult that cares makes all the difference for kids who’ve had adversity in their lives, doesn’t say who that person has to be. It could be a teacher, a bus driver, the lunch lady (one of my favorite fellow PTSA moms was also the lunch lady at Em’s middle school, thank you for being so awesome to our kids, Kathy!!), a neighbor, a pastor. It could be YOU. No, really, it probably is you, right now, and you might not even be aware. You don’t have to commit to some massive, never-ending project. You can, if you want, of course, and we love those folks. But you can also choose to be like my daughter. She has a simple commitment to always smile at people and say hi when she’s out in public. She knows a smiling, friendly face, can turn around someone’s day. I know it does mine.
Hope is a social gift.