A number of months ago at one of Customer Service team leaders meetings at Elim Care, I was given a book entitled Flourish by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, who is the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Just to give you an idea of how highly Dr. Seligman is held by his colleagues, in 1996 he was elected president of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in modern history. Much of Seligman’s research over the last 45 years has been trying to determine what brings a sense of well-being to people.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not all that impressed by academic degrees and honors of this kind. In addition, I realize full well that the starting point of secular psychology is man, not God, and that most secular psychologists think that peace and meaning in life can be found within man himself without any need for a relationship with a “supreme being.”
Just the same, having given these disclaimers, I admit that I am a seeker of truth in the broadest sense of that word. I desire to know truth wherever it can be found and believe that truth is found in both special revelation (the Bible) and natural revelation (God’s universe). Because of that, I honestly believe that God enables scientists, even social scientists, to think at least some of His thoughts after Him through good research as they uncover the mysteries of the universe. I will let you judge for yourself whether you think Seligman and his social researchers at Penn are on to something that is true and helpful.
Seligman’s conclusion is that well-being is more than happiness.
Well-being in life is composed of five elements:
- Positive emotions – happiness and life satisfaction, “the pleasant life”
- Engagement – having activities in which we become so engaged that time stops for us; complete absorption
- Relationships – not just contact with other people, but positive relationships with them
- Meaning – a sense of belonging to and serving something greater than ourselves
- Achievement – actually experiencing success, winning, accomplishment, mastery
If the author is right, even elderly people with whom I serve still need these five elements in their lives to have a sense of well-being. I think, for the most part, each person must find this “well-being” for himself/herself, but other people in their lives can help them find it. (Another disclaimer: as a Christian, a personal relationship with God through Christ has helped me fill all five of these elements, plus an even greater one, the need to be in relation standing with God.)
How can we provide this sense to the seniors in our care facilities?
Here are just a few preliminary suggestions to get us thinking about it. I’d like to hear from you on this.
- Positive emotions can come through good food, drink, treats, games, in other words, any number of pleasant things and experiences. It all depends on the particular person.
- Engagement can likewise come through really getting involved in things like reading, concerts, TV programs, games, etc. However, it means the elderly must still enjoy these activities and be willing to put his/her heart into them. Sadly, in my opinion, some have given up and don’t try to engage any more.
- Relationships also often become harder for elderly people who are struggling with dementia, hearing loss, vision problems, etc., but they are still possible. The kind of relationships that really satisfy are usually with family, close friends, and staff members or fellow residents who truly take the time to talk with them and listen to them.
- Meaning also becomes harder as we age, but we can look for things for the elderly to do that provide meaning in their life. It may have to be simple things like folding clothes protectors coming out of the facility dryer, handing out the daily time schedule, knitting winter caps to be given to poor children, packing Operation Christmas Child boxes, praying for others, etc. Again what gives meaning to one might not do so for another.
- Achievement or accomplishment is, in my opinion, also quite subjective. What I feel is an accomplishment or I think is successful is different from what you might sense it is. I believe the elderly person must change his opinion or “lower his standard” of what it is to accomplish something because he really can’t do what he did before when he was younger and more active. However, if he is willing to do so, he can still achieve or accomplish.
What are your thoughts?