The Give Back Initiative: Finding purpose in reconnecting our communities
I recently finished reading a book by Johann Hari called ‘Lost Connections’ (I highly recommend reading it!). In the book, Johann shares his story of having struggled with depression throughout most of his life and how that led him on a journey of discovery to one of the most natural and sustainable solutions to this Worldwide epidemic: Reconnection to our communities.
When I started Happywhenfit, I always knew that a massive part of the vision was wanting to give back to our communities and to enable others to find purpose and meaning in doing the same. The word ‘purpose’ is often used in an egocentric way in western culture that focuses on the individual, rather than on the individual who belongs to a much bigger picture. Purpose can be misunderstood. For example, you can have a job without having purpose, in the same way that you can have purpose without having a job. It is the values that encompass our actions that make work meaningful, not the act itself.
Finding our calling, or life’s purpose, can take time, experience and may often change. This is why I think it’s important we find’ Universal Purpose’, a term I created to describe the many ways in which we can find purpose and meaning in our lives by looking beyond the self. A measurement scale built on contribution, impact and legacy. What do I stand for? How is my ‘being’ positively impacting the lives of those around me?
When we ask these questions, purpose can be simplified. A lot of it is about the perspective or mindset that you place around it. For the purpose of this blog (pun intended), I am focusing on the purpose that can be found in reconnecting our communities through giving back.
The Healthy Schools Program
This year I have had the privilege of starting a program with my local Bunbury Farmers Market called ‘The Healthy Schools Program’. The aim of the program is to educate, inspire and empower students, teachers, parents and the wider community with the tools to make healthy choices. We get hands on with practical food demonstrations and preparation and have the benefit of fresh, quality produce that tastes better and supports our local people. I also wanted to demonstrate the need for stronger connections between schools, homes and communities in our education system. Building a program with the Bunbury Farmers Market, who share a vision of community health, has enabled me to model this for other communities in way that can be easily replicated to reap the benefits of increased community connectedness.
How can I create purpose in a program that goes beyond healthy eating? This was where I had the idea to have a ‘MasterChef experience’ for the students that would allow them to create their own healthy recipes that could then be collaborated into a resource to be sold with all profits going to local charity. I decided to call this the ‘Give Back Initiative’. An opportunity to give back to the community by not only sharing profits with charity, but also passing on their understanding of healthy eating to others through the recipes they created together. I am so excited to be able to share this resource at the end of the year and have the students witness the positive outcome that is bringing people together. Not only does this benefit our local community, but it acts as a positive example to other Australian schools and communities. I think that is a powerful project to be a part of.
Preventative Health Care
Could it be that in giving back to our communities, to a cause bigger than the self, that we have cultivated a drug free solution to some of the biggest mental health problems in society today? Imagine the money saved in healthcare if we could lead people towards preventative health steps like reconnection and purpose over prescription drugs. Imagine then, that money reinvested in community initiatives that can continue to bring us closer to the true essence of ‘community’ and togetherness. That is the type of education I want to pass onto our young people. The choices we make around nutrition, fitness and mental health can act as our own powerful preventative healthcare prescription. Studies show that those who live a life of purpose have a longer life expectancy than those who don’t. Whilst longevity is a blessing, I tend to think that the best outcome of a life rich in purpose is not longevity of life, but quality of life. Our relationships and the connections we make with others are a vital part of that picture of quality.
Disconnect to reconnect
The challenges we face in reconnecting our communities are largely attributed to the rise in technology and social media in parts of our lives that would once have required face to face communication and interaction. Whilst technology has many benefits, it’s now more necessary than ever that our schools and communities are providing experiences for young people to learn social skills such as respectful verbal and non-verbal communication and conversation, active listening, being present, problem solving, empathy and other emotional literacy skills that can not be taught from behind a screen.
It’s so rewarding to be able to provide an opportunity for young people to connect with their local people and for them to see themselves valued within their community. Students can have their recipes shared within the Farmers Market newsletter and take the recipes used within the program in store to receive special incentives. This encourages them to develop the social skills discussed above and to see the importance of disconnecting from technology sometimes to engage in real life experiences.
Time is one of the most commonly expressed barriers to making healthier choices. Whilst we do live in a generation that encourages a busy lifestyle, it is important that we as adults model the importance of making time for the things that matter. To reconnect to our communities, we must model the values that encompass the meaning of community, including respect, kindness, giving back, acting authentically, having a voice for the things that matter, fairness, justice, and our family and friends. This is why I make a point of educating staff, parents and students. We can’t expect our younger generation to model healthy behaviours if they don’t have positive role models to look up to or if their role models are saying one thing and doing another. We must walk the talk, modelling the values of community and encouraging our younger generation to find value in making time for that too. Only through integrated learning experiences will young people feel and understand the deeper purpose and fulfillment in giving back. The people you meet, the connections you make and the opportunities that open will always be worth the time investment.
A Generation of change
There are so many exciting projects in the future for Happywhenfit. Right now, I am enjoying the abundance the presence is offering and seeing the potential for growth within my own community and on a much bigger scale. My vision statement is to ‘Educate and empower healthier and happier communities; to inspire a generation of change’. I can see that unfolding organically and it is truly a privilege to be able to dedicate my own life's purpose to acts of service that can make positive change to the health and wellbeing of others.
Mahatma Gandi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”, universal purpose in the act of giving back. From my own personal experience on this path, I agree wholeheartedly. When we reconnect with the people in our communities, we reconnect with ourselves.