Two years ago, I wrote a book review on The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychologist who cites the seven principles of positive psychology which, he believes, help people succeed at work. Principle #7, on social investment, stuck in my mind as the most important one of all. One sentence in this chapter stood out as a pearl of wisdom we often overlook:
“When caught in a fire, holding on to others is the best chance we have for successfully finding our way out of the maze.”
Social connections have been found by numerous researchers to be the most important requirement for happiness. A lack of social bonds can lead to severe physical and mental illnesses. Achor mentioned a study called “Very Happy People,” in which researchers found how the strength of social bonds was the unique characteristic that sets apart the happiest 10% people from others, not fitness or wealth, but social support.
Why would it take a tragedy or crisis for us to reach out to our community? Is human nature innately selfish or self-centered, leading to a frequent neglect of social connections beyond a circle of friends and families?
This past weekend, my husband and I and a group of friends, together with hundreds of residents in Montgomery County, Maryland, joined our lawmakers and educators at the “ A Time to Stand Together” Solidarity Rally against the recent alarming rise in hate crimes after the presidential election. It was heart warming to see people from different races and religions stand side by side, affirming the common goal to protect and support each other. We were there as a community of humans yearning for peace, civility and equality for our community. We were there to show each other mutual admiration and respect, that love is love, without borders and walls.
The rally brought me hope that my community will survive the political divisiveness our country is facing. In darkness, we see each other’s inner light, as in a famous Quaker quote “There is that of God in everyone.” As one of the speakers reminded us during the rally, that we can’t give up hope and give up our principles that have made our country great. We will continue to let love and compassion guide our path to a happy and civil society for all.
On yesterday’s Diane Rehm show on NPR, a panel of researchers on Alzheimer’s disease was interviewed. Her three guests were Dr. Kenneth Langa, professor of Internal Medicine from University of Michigan, Dr. John Haaga, from the National Institute of Aging at NIH, and Dr. Nancy Donovan, a Psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School.
Ms Rehm informed her audience the good news of how dementia rates in people over 65 have dropped 24% from 2000 to 2012. She and her guests discussed the risks and prevention of this terrible condition which is responsible for many deaths yearly in the U.S. One of the astonishing facts about Alzheimer’s risk is the income level of the patients. Wealthy people tend to have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers attributed the higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease partly to a lack of education which leads to a lower income level and, subsequently, a less healthy lifestyle. Beside Alzheimer’s disease, many chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease or mental illnesses result from poverty. They urged all of us to support a society where the poor should have greater access to higher education and healthcare to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases. They also urged us to engage in varied social activities which stimulate our brain and cognitive functioning.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I hope all of us pause and be mindful of our more than adequate lives. Be aware, at the same time, of the inadequacy in many others’ lives, in this country or abroad. It is difficult to achieve true peace unless everyone is given the opportunity to good health, freedom and happiness. Being at a rally to confirm our protection and support for each other in our community is not enough to make a great society. It’s a first good step to acknowledge each other’s existence. Being active in changing and supporting policies that improve the education and lifestyle of lower income residents around us would be the true confirmation of our mutual love and respect for each other. Being active in denouncing policies that protect only the wealthy segment of society, especially if we are among those in this segment, would be the sincere way to show compassion to our fellow citizens. Cutting funds in education or mental health access, for example, would not be an appropriate way to improve the lives of poor people. While waiting for the great politicians to settle their fights and help their citizens, we need to be the local activists who make real and more rapid changes for our community. As I often remind my friends, every marathon starts with a first step, every tree from a seed, every invention from a person with an idea. Each of us should try to take that first step or start the seedling to a great society.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!
“In the end, only three things matter: how much YOU LOVED, how gently you LIVED, and how gracefully you let go ot things not meant for you.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.