At one time, the only measure we had as Canadians regarding our wellbeing was our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For those unfamiliar with the GDP, it is essentially a quarterly report from the Government which states how the Canadian economy is doing. Thankfully, the wonderful people at Waterloo University decided this was not a good enough measure of how Canadians are really doing and took it upon themselves to create “Canadian Index of Wellbeing.” Now, rather than measuring our successes and failures in solely monetary values, we can measure it in areas that count. Such as community (the basis of this post), democratic engagement, education, health etc.
This index of wellbeing is now in its second edition, allowing us to see not only how we are doing right now, but how we are doing in relation to how we were doing in 1994 when the original index was created. Some disturbing facts come from this. As stated on the website (https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/) ,
“The second Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) composite report shows in the seventeen year period from 1994 to 2010, Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by a robust 28.9% while our quality of life only improved by a very modest 5.7%. Further, it reveals Canadian wellbeing dropped by 24% between 2008 and 2010 and the decline in our wellbeing continues despite subsequent economic recovery.
The findings uncover some troubling truths about the connection between our economy and our wellbeing. When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians saw only modest improvements in their overall quality of life, but when the economy faltered our wellbeing took a disproportionate step backward.”
While it is arguable that the government should be doing more to help us attain a higher quality of life, there is so much that we can and should be doing at an individual level.
The first domain the CIW addresses is Community Vitality. When this came up in my positive psych class, many were confused. Why is community such a pertinent issue? My answer. Once you have found a place in your community you will understand. Here is a quick overview in the changes to community vitality between 1994 and 2012.
I grew up in small town Alberta. The population is less than 1500 people. I always watched Gilmore Girls thinking how cool it would be to live in Stars Hallow, my town was not, in any way Stars Hallow (whew, I think I’ve already made two references to Gilmore Girls on this blog…). I equated the town nothing but small and boring. I could bike from one side to the other in under 15 minutes. I went to a farm school which meant most of my friends lived on farms or in other small towns. Either way, being young and unable to drive, my friends were often inaccessible. I spent my summers watching movies in the basement alone and occasionally going off to camp with one of my BFFs. I volunteered with the sturgeon youth council, but again with everything being so far away I volunteered pretty half-assed and didn’t get a ton from the experience. While many found this living ideal and had a strong sense of community I often felt isolated and alone.
Eager to leave, I moved into the big city when I was 17 (almost 18) and hadn’t even officially graduated high school yet. Within two years I found the true meaning of community. I got a summer job working with community services in the recreation department. I worked a free drop in program for kids and it really changed my life. Even on the coldest, windiest, miserablest (yes I know that’s not actually a word) days I would sit at the park I was assigned to and watch the children flock from all sides to come and join me and their friends. Even if we were just sitting under the park equipment chatting trying to stay out of the rain, these children made the choice to come and join when they could be sitting at home. I worked in a very affluent neighbourhood my first year too, these kids all had every gaming device made, swimming pools, big screen tvs etc. One day, while I was still working these programs, I was loading groceries into my car and heard my name. I looked up and saw two brothers that I had worked with several years previously with their heads out the car door as their Mom stopped the car so we could chat. After three years, not only did these boys remember me but they remember specific things that we did together, games that we played, conversations that we had. It hit me that I had actually made an impact on these kids and my life really hasn’t been the same since. Through this drop in program I have watched children meet their neighbours and become best friends,I’ve watched kids grow up, I talked with young women about things that really matter to them like self-image and drugs. And I saw a City of over 800,000 come together in a way I never would have thought possible.
That’s me 3 years ago rocking the juvenile duck face goofing off while working recreation.
Next, I joined the Police Service as a volunteer in the Victim Services Unit. I began calling victims of crime to follow-up with them, give them local references to free counselling, funeral services, sexual assault relief etc. Next I began going out on calls. I have held the hands of mothers as they find out their child is not ever coming home again, I have sat with young women who were sexual abused and children who found their only parent hanging from a ledge in the house dead. If you do not believe there is a sense of community in this city of 800,000 you have never seen trauma or extreme distress.
Just recently a friend of mine was told by the Cancer Institute that there were no further treatments for her. Having to look elsewhere to treatment became expensive quickly and her friends and family all got together to host an event for her which they called, “Angels for Crystal.” Through donations of complete strangers, this city of over 800,000 raised over $50,000 for her.
My heart is humbled but the actions of strangers. Through social media I have found other communities as well. Through www.babycenter.com I have gained a support network of almost 16,000 women across the world who are also pregnant and due in September 2013. We have seen several babies go to heaven from the group, while several more rest in the NICU. We have been there for each other to ask questions and lean on for support. I have found people within the city who also love animals through the humane society. While I have never met or even directly communicated with them I feel close to people who post on their page knowing that we all share a common bond and love of animals. Through my various jobs I have gained friends that span the whole width of the city.
I know now what I was missing when I lived in Small Town Alberta….I missed a sense of community.
What do you do to feel close to your community?