Creating a Quality of Life that Goes Beyond Economics

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Dr. Stephen Bavolek, creator of a positive parenting curriculum subscribes to a world of possibility and has challenged our community leaders to make the social environment as beautiful as the natural environment. This challenge struck a chord and many people have engaged in conversations and ideas for about a year. All subscribe to the notion that Coos County has the capacity to see itself differently. For example, we could document the reduction in drug usage, the increase high school graduation, the health of families, and the value of volunteerism and continue to build on the things that are working within the context of our beautiful surroundings.
This challenge inspired new thinking about how we might reframe the questions and imagine new solutions instead of fixing old problems. What if we reinforced the positive? What if we acknowledged things that are going well and grew those? What if this fundamental shift launched a new way of seeing and being and a sense of positivity and possibility went “viral” throughout the community? Furthermore, what if we could document and measure our improvements? Most importantly what if the quality of life and the measure of success was not just based on economics?
On a personal level we often measure success by status and how much stuff you have and on a national level, we measure it by economic growth, as if that represented progress. The assumption has been that with more consuming and more spending we will have a higher quality of life. Now that view is being questioned by many individuals and public policy makers alike, who wonder if there might be another way to get a true sense of growth and improved quality of life.
The traditional measure of economic growth has been the GDP (gross domestic product) which only measures economic movement without revealing whether that activity hurts or benefits the environment and quality of life. Most importantly, GDP does not tell us who is benefiting from economic growth. However the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) includes environmental and social factors as well. You could think of GPI as the “net” revenue after subtracting the “costs” from the GDP. Simply put, net quality of life must take into account the cost of producing it, so there are three essential indicators; economic, environmental and social, This means that decisions cannot simply be based on how much money a project generates, if it the costs grossly impacts the environment and the social fabric of the community. These new indicators provide a framework for creating agreements upfront in a decision-making process and enabling all stakeholders the opportunity to agree on what success will look like before a project is completed.
I remember seeing a special about the country of Bhutan that weighs factors related to the environment and sustainability in addition to economic return. This has evolved into a very sophisticated set of metrics and is being looked at as a model all over the world. Not too long ago, Governor Kitzhaber participated in a trip to Bhutan to learn more about these factors in making public policy decisions. It turns out that Oregon, Maryland and Vermont are all taking a lead in crafting new metrics to measure progress. The Governor is committed to making GPI an effective driver for policy and budget decisions and as a first step these indicators are being tested in some pilots for the 2015-2017 budgets. The intent is use GPI to craft the state budget in all three capital accounts; physical capital, human capital and environmental capital. This means that the public sector is setting a tone that maintains a balance between the three indicators and perhaps this will set the tone for cooperative collaborative efforts between local governments and the business sector.
In addition, The 2013 Oregon Values and Belief Survey sponsored by the Oregon Health and Science University, The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Oregon State University further confirms that Oregonians generally seek a balanced approach when it comes to weighing economic growth against protecting natural resources and promoting social wellbeing for the citizens.
Here in Coos County, we have an opportunity consider using new metrics for measuring local success in any number of developments and community-wide collaborations currently underway or planned. Since, Oregon is one of the states taking the lead in creating different indicators, we have an opportunity to extrapolate from the envisioned State GPI measures of success and use them locally as a model for others to follow, wouldn’t that be amazing!

Seeing Possibility in Change

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Have you ever suffered from loss, regret, remorse?  Has it ever sent you into a spin, or a depression, and you wondered if you would ever pull out of the nose dive?  You know, maybe one lost sale, one screw-up at work, a failed exam, a broken relationship, a bad financial decision and you think that defines you and all of your life.  And on a larger scale, we tell community stories, you know the loss of timber and fishing and jobs and declining economy and domestic violence and drug abuse and teen pregnancy…OK the list goes on and you get the idea.  But here’s the deal, all of that can change when we pull ourselves out of our individual and collective nose dive and begin to feel new inklings of hope.

I don’t want to get all woo-woo on you but it turns out there has been a ton of research in the field of positive psychology.  Martin Seligman, Ph.D. professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, past president of the American Psychological Association, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book, Learned Optimism; How to Change Your Mind and Your Life provides research findings that do indeed show that we can unlearn how we think about ourselves and get out of “learned helplessness” and move into “learned optimism”.

He has concluded after years of research that “the human trait of resilience in the face of defeat need not remain a mystery.  It is not an inborn trait; it can be acquired.”   He said that often when we experience a failure, we tend to generalize and feel that we are a failure in all aspects of our life and this sense of failure becomes pervasive.  We can feel that we are a failure in all that we do, nothing is working and all is lost.  But what if, we did not “snowball” it and we did not see everything as dysfunctional?

Dr. Seligman outlines how our thoughts create our feelings which then we make up stories we tell ourselves and they begin to shape our lives.  But if we think new thoughts, we can generate feelings of hope and even gratitude for a learning opportunity and this leads to imagining new possibilities and creating new stories.   What if we could live in possibility and gratitude for everything?  I know how hard that can be, but what if we could find something to be grateful for, even the smallest things?   This first step would enable us to begin to shift how we see the world, and put us on the path of imagining new possibilities and changing events in our lives, in our organizations and our community.

David Cooperrider, Ph.D., creator of Appreciative Inquiry at Case Western University outlines a philosophy and methodology for how people and organizations can make the shift from identifying how things that are not working and identifying all the things that should be fixed to identifying things that are  working and how to do more of that.  He outlines how even dysfunctional systems something(s) is/are working and that our job is to discover the positive core and grow it.  Appreciative Inquiry is based on the notion that as we discover the strengths in a system or person, and nurture them, they will grow and that over time when strengths are combined with strengths, they do more than perform; they transform.

Now imagine how you can shift your focus to what you do want (seeing the things that are working) rather than what you don’t want (seeing the things that are not working).  Next imagine joining with others who want positive change to happen in your organization and in your community; and then imagine how amazing a collective vision for a positive future might be!  This is not Polly Anna thinking or uniformed optimism, this is practical possibility and why not?  We could just as easily think a negative thought as we could think a positive thought; we could just as easily give a compliment as we could give a criticism.  (Don’t think I don’t slip on this one too, but if I continue to get back on track with the intention of seeing the world differently, I know I can bring new possibilities it into reality.) I know that without inspiration, positive change is not possible and who wants to live a life that is not vital and alive?

There is a part you can play in your own world and in the community to make the shift a reality.  You can be a positive force simply by smiling and saying “Good Morning” and finding ways that  bring out the best in those that cross your path.  As a leader in an organization, you can identify the strengths in your teams and lead in new directions.
If you want to learn tools and techniques for making the shift from “problem solving” to “solution finding” in your own life and in your organizational life, I invite you to attend the upcoming Shift Happens workshop on April 12th sponsored by the Small Business Development Center.  Give them a call to register; 541-756-6866.