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Paradoxes of Wellbeing

By November 12, 2011 - 11:25am

Welcome to Paradox, Colorado. A rural community in the West End of Montrose County, close to the Utah border. According to the folks at Blue Zones - "thriving" communities have the "Foundation Five--the five things basic things people need to be happy: Food, shelter, healthcare, mobility, and at least a high school education."

Now, look at the picture above - the Paradox general store. What is your vote - Blue Zone or not Blue Zone?

Before we tally the votes on that, I want to say a word about paradoxes and wellbeing (happiness). The term paradox can be defined as any person, thing or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature (Dictionary.com).

When I attended Martin Seligman's positive psychology coaching course, there were lectures by faculty who had authored books with the word paradox in the title. Both look at very different aspects of happiness . . . one looks at choice; the other at progress.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Swartz talks about how we feel helpless with no choice . . . but more is not better. Limiting life's choices to only 3, it seems, prevent us from feeling overwhelmed by choice and regretful that we had not picked one of the other options. We are happier if we have choice and also if we limit choices.

On quite a different topic, The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook, looks at how (statistically) life is generally getting better ("we live our grandparent's dream" - education, more than one car, larger homes, etc), yet we tend to feel the world is getting worse and worse. Just read the daily rants on Facebook if you doubt that! No wonder the whole idea of Rapture is so compelling . . . these must be the end days.

My take-away from the Easterbrook book is that simple things, like enough sleep, may be feeding our perceptions. We sleep something like two hours less than our grandparents, we watch TV news right before bed, etc. All things that raise levels of the stress hormone, and we feel worse.

The West End of Montrose County would probably never qualify as a Blue Zone if current standards were used to look at thriving. It is a very beautiful place with many great citizens. Yet, since the uranium industry died out at least 30 years ago, financial viability and the population have dropped off significantly. This area is 60 miles from a stop light, 100 miles from a hospital (though they do have 2-3 clinics), 100 miles from a college (though the communities do network to provide a K-12 school system), and 33% on live on welfare. To me, there is some feeling of community "learned helplessness" or pessimism. Perhaps not enough choice . . . and progress has, indeed, left the community less economically stable.

The paradox of the West End lies in Paradox, itself. Within the walls of a small charter school (preschool through 8th grade) reside an unofficial "blue zone". It is a school that was literally closed after the uranium boom ended. But, with community effort, it came back to life a few years later with a different tone.

When I went there to visit (as the public health nurse), I was instantly amazed at the engagement of the kids in their learning. They were working on school plays, playing string instruments and showing-off class projects with such enthusiasm that I was amazed. And the teachers were focused on knowing the kids and utilizing their individual strengths in service of the larger community/school. They were empowered to make choices . . . and to influence progress in a positive direction.

These kids exemplify the paradox of wellbeing. They are a bit of a "blue zone" (unofficially) because of the culture they created in those four walls. A paradox compared to the region, as a whole.

How can communities and organizations create "blue zones" of thriving, even if they are not in "blue zone" regions? How does this influence wellbeing of the citizens? Do you see the paradox within?

Visit this post on my blog to see photos - http://midwifeofchanges.blogspot.com/2011/11/paradoxes-of-wellbeing.html

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