Saturday 14 January 2012

"Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Chocolate Cake and Community"

"The most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." ~ Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Through my journey with depression I have learnt a few things, most importantly that you need a bit of balance in life. While eating two giant slices of the most delicious chocolate cake with pink icing, sprinkles and vanilla ice cream (just a random example!) might seem like a great idea and taste wonderful in the moment, you will probably not feel so good a short while later.

I am reading a fascinating book right now. It's called Well Being - The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter. It's about the connection between these key areas in your life: career, social, financial, physical, and community well being. If you become too focused on one area, another is likely to suffer. Rath and Harter work for Gallup and the book is full of scientific findings supporting the importance of these five areas and their interdependency.

Out of the five areas of well being I feel particularly drawn to community well being right now. I think that's party because I work for a company that is very focused on the community - we make money so that we can do good things with it within our communities. Every day at work I feel that the job I do has a direct impact on the organization's success. I feel a stronger sense of engagement at work because of this. It's nice to know that I work for a company with strong values, values that I share.

I live in downtown Vancouver in one of Canada's priciest neighbourhoods in terms of real estate. I live here mostly because I am lucky - I was born into a particular socioeconomic range, and I have a good job in which I am fairly compensated. But just a few blocks away, a mere 10 minute walk, and I am literally in Canada's poorest neighbourhood - Vancouver's downtown East Side. Many of my "neighbours" there suffer from mental illness or substance abuse problems and many don't have a home to call their own. When I see someone stumbling into East Hastings Street high as a kite I feel sad. When I see a homeless person yelling gibberish, my heart breaks. These people aren't "bums" - they are people who our society has let down. That person yelling gibberish and pushing a shopping cart is most likely suffering from a mental illness. No child dreams of being homeless when they grow up.  I view these people through a different lens, partly because of my own 20 plus year battle with mental illness. I also like to think it's because I value my community and the well being of all it's members.

In their book, Rath and Harter state that as part of Gallup's research across 150 countries, "people who are engaged in their careers are 20%-30% more likely to give back to their community." So this supports their argument that these key areas are all interdependent. As your well being improves in other areas, your odds of having thriving community well being dramatically increase as well.

One of the reasons that I started this blog was to bring a sense of community to those of us who suffer from mental illness and to those who love us. It's partly altruistic but it's more than that. I feel like I am doing something positive and that makes me feel good. Several of the Gallup studies have shown a link between "altruistic behaviour and increases in overall longevity, and researchers have speculated that this might be due in part to how well-doing inoculates us against stress and negative emotions."

So as I sit in my warm, cozy apartment, wanting for nothing, I have plans to collect coats, boots, socks, scarves, sweaters & mittens from my co-workers on Monday & Tuesday. I'll deliver them to my downtown East Side neighbours and hope that we can bring them a little bit of comfort on a cold winter night. Then maybe I'll go home and enjoy a piece of chocolate cake (but just one!)

KB xo

WELL BEING - The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath & Jim Harter is available at Chapters

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