Each year I find that by the time March rolls around people are in a slump, myself included. We’ve been trudging through winter for four months and the excitement of that first snowfall has long worn off. December has Christmas, January has that buzz of New Year potential, February has Valentines Day and then there is March with.…slush. This year I made the commitment to myself that I wasn’t going to fall prey to the lethargy and boredom that seems to be ushered in with the third month of the year. Near the end of February, I spent a few weekends, between completing assignments for my Rec Therapy diploma, to research what the month of March actually had to offer. It didn’t take long to discover that March 20th is recognized as the International Day of Happiness and is intended to “recognize the important of happiness in the lives of people around the world” (United Nations, n.d.).
That date on the calendar was all I needed to know, and the wheels of progress had started turning in my mind. March, officially, had something to offer. And so did I! Well aware of my feelings toward March’s monotony I broadened my view to observe the student body of Mohawk College and realized that based on the slumped shoulders under backpacks and heads hanging down into phone screens, I was not the only one who was feeling that winter weight. Subsequently, I set out with the intention to help as many people as possible in my student body community reignite their happiness. An idea that began as my own means of happiness attainment quickly developed into a community-wide Positive Psychology Intervention (PPI). For information on positive psychology tools to add to your own repertoire, a great free ebook can be found here: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Positive-Psychology-Practitioners-Tools.pdf. For me, I was going to start a Happiness movement. As “the focus of PPIs is on improving well-being, distress is not a prerequisite; thus, nonclinical populations are equally targeted” (D’raven & Pasha-Zaidi, 2014). This particular aspect worked much in my favour as I was able to address the student body as a whole, enabling the creation of an all-inclusive community and decreasing the stigma of treatment for those in more desperate need of the intervention.
In cohesion with the practice of Therapeutic Recreation (TR) and with my personal values, PPIs “do not make mention of or focus on problems but emphasize positive elements in the lives of individuals… [they are] simple strategies designed to mimic the actions of happy people and, in turn, generate greater well-being” (D’raven & Pasha-Zaidi, 2014). So, armed with 100 sun-shaped cookies, 100 yellow lollipops, and balloons plus information to share on happiness and positive psychology a friend and I set up shop for three-hours to spread joy (and do a little TR promoting) on campus. To each individual I encountered, I made two simple requests: one, to share with me insight on what makes them happy and two, to pay it forward today to another student, family member, or stranger on the street. I found that as much as people enjoyed sharing their experiences with me, and receiving their treat, they seemed to equally enjoy the pay-it-forward aspect of the initiative. Research suggests that random acts of kindness “enrich social integration, distract individuals from their problems, raise self-efficacy, and promote activity…[and that] giving appears to activate the brain’s reward centres to a greater extent than receiving” (D’raven & Pasha-Zaidi, 2014). And as I witnessed people making eye contact with one another, holding doors, giving compliments, and exchanging high-fives and hugs it was all too clear that in doing kind acts themselves students were allowing their happiness to blossom.
That day I was able to reach over 200 students and staff at Mohawk College, if each in turn went on to extend kindness and happiness to another individual the effects of that happiness wave and the well-being of our student body community as a whole could only exponentially rise. Today, weeks after the event, I am now recognized regularly as “the happiness girl” by students I would have never had the opportunity to meet and engage with. If you’re interest in becoming the local “happiness person” in your community, here is a list of over 100 easy (and mostly free!) random acts of kindness: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicamisener/101-easy-ideas-for-random-acts-of-kindness?utm_term=.dcoz6x1dp#.xyL7gwp3X As Recreation Therapists (RTs), regardless of the population in which you choose to pursue your passion and the clients that you work with, its important to recognize that life is not always kind, but that humans should be. And that in this work we have the privilege to be cultivators of creativity, supporters of new skills, energized educators, recreation re-activators, and above all, happiness healers.
For more information on the International Day of Happiness check out: http://www.actionforhappiness.org
United Nations. (n.d.). International Day of Happiness March 20. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/en/events/happinessday/
D’raven, L. & Pasha-Zaidi, N. (2014). Positive psychology interventions: a review for counselling practitioners. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol 48 (4), p. 383-408.