Connecting with ourselves and others is the core of wellbeing. In all of the practices we engage in – arts, movement, meditation, and so on – we must bring an attitude of presence and compassion that allows these practices to ‘connect’ us to ourselves, other people, and the earth. We can think of being ‘unwell’ as a state of division: groups of people in a society might be pitted against one another, or parts of a person’s internal psyche might repress other parts. Human beings think of themselves as ‘separate’ from the rest of nature. Awareness of our inherent connection can help to heal these divides; we can come to see that when anyone suffers in the world, we all suffer. This understanding can promote holistic change. Compassion, loving-kindness, and other ‘pro-social’ emotions allow us to see ourselves and others entirely, without shutting our eyes against suffering. Without this attitude, we can end up falling into judgmental attitudes that keep us separate. As you will hear in the videos below, cultivating compassionate connection is important in many contexts. No matter your circumstances, learning to connect with oneself, the earth, and our communities is an important step towards wellbeing.

Building Collective Wellbeing

Dr. Mulligan defines ‘wellbeing’ in contrast to ‘wellness’ as something very broad that encapsulates all facets of our lives. This broadness means that wellbeing is relational, and that self-care and community-care are intertwined. Building the resiliency of our communities is something that we can only do together, and in doing so we also help ourselves. 

Helping Ourselves and Encouraging Others

Ms. Munjee speaks about using mindfulness to address social injustices, such as through allyship, forming communities and encouraging others to speak up for social change. She discusses the critique that mindfulness, a secular practice centred on the individual, places responsibility on the individual to feel better rather than on the structures which cause people to feel bad. Ms. Munjee advocates instead that mindfulness can be used to raise awareness and acknowledgment of the problem, rather than sweeping issues under the rug. 

Kindness as Activism

Jay points out that our self-care practices are not just for our benefit; they are also a stance against the attention economy. Every time we take a mindful breath or treat someone kindly, we are making a statement about how we want to live.

Connecting with the Earth, with Community, and with the Body

Dr. Miller explains what he means by interconnection, pointing to deep ecology and Indigenous perspectives as a guide towards seeing ourselves as part of a web of life. He elaborates on three primary connections: with the earth, with community and with the body. He also offers some advice on how you can cultivate these connections, for example, by forest-bathing, joining a sports team or social cause, and regularly doing physical exercise such as yoga, Tai Chi or another physical practice you enjoy and helps you “feel at home” in your own body.

Connecting with Deeper Parts of Ourselves

Dr. Miller talks about connecting with the deeper parts of ourselves, and ultimately, with the universe. He describes Abraham Maslow’s notion of “peak experiences” wherein we feel a boundless sense of ourselves, for example, in listening to music or spending time with a loved one. He also speaks about his invitation for students to develop a meditation practice as a means towards being in the present moment and connecting with our inner selves.

What are Pro-social Emotions?

Dr. Stellar lists some of the specific emotions she studies that are known as pro-social, because they promote altruistic behaviour. These can also be called ‘self-transcendent emotions.’ Dr. Stellar believes they play an important role in our understanding of wellbeing.

The Interconnected Self

Dr. Stellar explains the reason behind the new title of ‘self-transcendent’ emotions: these emotions make our sense of self less central to our perspective and decisions. They blur the boundaries between self and other, allowing for a shift in focus. In this way, reduced salience of the self can sometimes be a very good thing.

Connecting with Others During the Pandemic

Dr. Stellar reflects on life during the pandemic, during which we have lost precious moments of interaction that had allowed us to feel grateful and appreciative of others. She suggests seeking out these moments even under our limiting circumstances.

The Challenges of Social Isolation

Dr. Mulligan discusses the variety of contexts that can make isolation more or less challenging for individuals. While it may be difficult during the pandemic, the most important thing is to prioritize connection with people, even in small ways.

Meeting Difference and the Importance of Empathy

Dr. Richardson discusses the way in which studying history can broaden one’s perspective and generate empathy. So often we get caught in thinking that our experience is universal, which is not at all the case. Understanding people from other places and times can help us understand each other, and see that the choices each person makes are perfect under their idiosyncratic circumstances. With greater empathy, we can move towards making choices together. Part of building an environment of empathy is helping students understand that they don’t need to prove themselves in the classroom; everyone is there to learn together and from one another. 

Selected resources for learning more

Bhatti S, Rayner J, Pinto AD, Mulligan K, Cole DC. Using self-determination theory to understand the social prescribing process: a qualitative study. BJGP open. 2021 Apr 1;5(2).  

Johnson SS, Post SG. Rx It’s good to be good (G2BG) 2017 commentary: Prescribing volunteerism for health, happiness, resilience, and longevity. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2017 Mar.  

Rx Community (final report, videos and media):  UK National Academy for Social Prescribing  

In her 2016 TED talk, ” The positive effects of positive emotions“, positive psychology researcher and Windvane contributor Dr. Jennifer Stellar illuminates how truly awe-inspiring experiences may mean more than we realize for our physical and mental health.