Free your Mind
Attendees to the Empathy and Compassion in Society conference are invited to a private screening of the acclaimed documentary film Free the Mind, on the first evening of the conference (Friday 23rd November, 8 to 9.30 pm).
Free the Mind is the fantastic tale of how one man’s vision provides a turning point in the lives of three people.
Professor Richard Davidson is one of the world’s leading researchers of the human brain. He sets out to discover if, and how, it is possible to physically change the brain using only the power of thought.
Steve and Rich are just two out of thousands of American war veterans. Their lives have turned into painful nightmares; restless insomniacs tormented by their own consciences after events witnessed and deeds done during wartime.
Will, 5 years old, suffers from ADHD and anxiety. His parents are eager to try other options than those provided by traditional medicine.
Can Professor Davidson make a difference? Can he free these people from their miserable existences and help them lead ordinary lives? Free the Mind follows the three test subjects on a daring journey into the deepest recesses of the human mind.
The private view is for all participants to Empathy and Compassion in Society – those with a Conference Pass, but also those attending for the Conference on Friday only or the workshops and roundtables on Saturday only.
Things That Matter
There’s a paradox at the heart of modern life. Despite decades of economic growth and material progress, surveys consistently show that we’re no happier now than we were sixty years ago.
There’s a growing sense that we’ve got a society and economic system with the wrong priorities. With many families and communities facing difficult times it may seem counter-intuitive or even flippant to talk about happiness. But now more than ever we need to help people build their emotional resilience and create a more compassionate culture which is less preoccupied with wealth and more focused on each other’s wellbeing.
In this article I will highlight four vital areas where we can take action to improve well-being: government policy, workplaces, schools and our own personal lives.
A new focus for policy making
In terms of political change we need to measure societal well-being and prioritise the things that increase it. Here in the UK, the Office for National Statistics recently published the first official annual data on the nation’s wellbeing, tracking vital measures such as life satisfaction and looking at how these vary with different factors.
But measurement alone is not enough. This new wellbeing data must translate into concrete action in terms of policy development and evaluation. It’s essential that we move away from our current policies that support economic growth and towards a much broader dialogue about policies that support sustainable wellbeing for all.
Improving our workplaces
It is deeply concerning that a high proportion of those fortunate enough to have a job experience significant stress and anxiety at work. Considering that we typically spend nearly half our waking hours at work, this is a very worrying state of affairs.
The potential benefits of creating happier workplaces are huge. Increasing evidence shows that happier employees are not only healthier and less likely to be absent; they’re also more generous, creative, motivated and productive. Most important of all is creating a culture where people are genuinely trusted and valued. We all know instinctively that people work best when they feel positive about themselves and care about the people they work with. Yet far too many organisations are still stuck in a culture built on big egos, constant pressure and a lack of trust. This has to change.
Re-focusing our schools
In the UK 20% of children experience mental health issues in a given year and these problems often affect other areas of their life, including relationships and academic performance.
Schools are vital in combating these issues. But although teachers care deeply about the well-being of children in their schools, the school system often fails to encourage sufficient focus on psychological and emotional well-being, instead placing far greater emphasis on academic attainment. We urgently need a greater focus on well-being in schools and a recognition that it’s not an “either/or” choice between wellbeing and attainment – kids that are flourishing do better academically and are also more likely to make a positive contribution to wider society.
Making a difference ourselves
Although systemic change is vital, an even more important shift rests with us as individuals and the actions we take. But can individuals really make a difference? I believe we undoubtedly can and I’ll explain three important reasons why.
Firstly, the evidence and research from Positive Psychology and other fields shows that it’s possible for people to become happier. Although factors outside our control do affect how happy we are, a very significant proportion of what determines our happiness relates to our intentional activities and conscious choices.
Secondly, our emotions are contagious across social networks. So when we’re happy and make positive connections with others around us, we affect their happiness too.
Thirdly, we’re hard-wired to care about each other. Doing things to make others happier is part of our nature and this has played a vital role in our evolution as a species.
So what can we actually do? Action for Happiness has identified 50 practical, evidence-based actions that people can take in their everyday lives that help boost their own happiness as well as contributing to the happiness of others and helping to build a more compassionate and caring society.
Building the movement
Since the launch Action for Happiness in 2011 we’ve made steady progress in raising these issues up the agenda. With our partners we’re now developing targeted initiatives to promote happiness and wellbeing in local community groups, schools and workplaces.
Although the tide is gradually turning, many people continue to question whether happiness really matters. In some cases this is just a question of terminology, but in other cases, people still struggle to accept the importance of people’s subjective feelings; surely objective measures like health should take priority? Perhaps the strongest response to this argument is the objective evidence, showing that people who are happier experience lower levels of disease and live longer than their less happy counterparts.
Creating a happier and more caring society is possible. Yes, we need some big changes in our politics, workplaces, schools, and beyond – however there are significant potential benefits from getting this right. Crucially, by choosing to live in a way that prioritises the happiness of those around us, we can also each contribute to this much-needed shift in values which is already underway. So let’s stop aiming for lives filled with material riches and focus instead on helping people lead richer, happier lives.