Finding Happiness in Community

linda-jackson-headshot

From AAI Program Director Linda Jackson:

For many of us, summer is the season of visiting new and favorite places, and seeing old friends and distant family. It’s also the time we head out to open spaces, enjoying the fresh air and green and gold vistas. I’m accompanied by my summer reading, all about happiness.

My research into ‘happiness’ has several roots. As one of the indicators influencing mental health, isolation affects the ability of older people to age successfully in their community. As we get older, many of us will lose someone closest to us: our spouse or partner, friends and neighbors, work colleagues, and family members. People who live in suburban homes find that when they stop driving, it is much more challenging to do necessary outings for food and time with family and friends. Being “in community,” however we individually define that, is essential for our mental health and our happiness.

A second factor is the understanding that community is a privilege not all of us are fortunate enough to have. The news about families arriving to ask for asylum only to be locked up in separate facilities moves one to despair, the opposite of happiness. In Marin, we stand concerned about our immigrant neighbors. Some of Marin’s immigrants are the clients of AAI partners. They are grandparents, worried about their own citizenship and the precarious situations of their family members. Many AAI partners employ immigrants for administrative and professional support in healthcare and care-giving. One of our partners recently contracted with an immigration attorney to provide consultations for their employees. What a benefit to help their workers have information needed for some peace of mind.

The last source of this deep summer dive into ‘happiness’ is from my own roots: my mother’s parents were from Sweden. I have long been intrigued by the comfortable and happy lives of my cousins and others living in northern Europe. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the greatest life satisfaction is in Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, and Finland. Other northern European countries are close behind. (The U.S. ranks #15.)

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (yes, there is such a place!), identifies six components to happiness: togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust, and kindness. Our work in AAI aligns well with these components. We value collaboration, compassion, and respect. We advocate for aging-in-community and economic security. We innovate to improve communication across sectors and address inequities.

This month we highlight a facet of life in northern Europe that we enjoy here in Marin, with our abundant open space. As Dr. Lisa Santora explains this month, “a walk outside” is therapy. Even better is a walk in the woods. To be in nature, in natural habitat, breathing fresh air and experiencing a different setting — together this creates well-being, and yes, happiness.

Check out our greatly-expanded Resource webpage this month. You’ll find research done in Marin and beyond about older adults, and about organizations working with diverse populations. For example, and in honor of being outside, see what the County is planning for its parks in its “Inclusive Action Plan”. Bookmark this site, and use it to find pertinent facts for your grant applications and announcements.

I recently was on a unique walk, on a hunt for a grave marker in the enormous and lovely Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. It was just me and three maps (two from the hand-drawn era), wandering the lanes and gravestones, searching in the heat and shade, hiking over the rises and vales of the landscape, for an elusive stone. With what must have been a dozen restarts, and a pursuit that involved crawling under a bush the size of an elephant and brushing off the pine needles to uncover a granite marker in perfect condition after 83 years, I reached a serendipitous ending. There was my Swedish grandfather’s marker.

John Young

I sat there in the silent shade under the branches for a while, sitting with the memories of stories about this man who died ten years before I was born. With some fruit and water and rest, I was ready for the hike back to the entryway, ready to rejoin the vibrancy of urban Chicago. And, yes, I was happy!

Wishing you the same, and hope to see you on the trails ~

 

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Trees: the Best Medicine?

July newsletter pic

By Lisa Santora, MD, MPH

In 2015, I relocated my family from Los Angeles to Marin County for trees. Yes, trees. There were two moments that crystallized my decision to move: watching my son touch his first earthworm when he was 4 years old, and hearing my 3-year old daughter exclaim, “It’s a farm!” when we landed at Philadelphia International Airport. I realized that I couldn’t stay true to my purpose of nurturing a healthy, joyful family in the concrete jungles of LA. My family and I needed nature in our lives.

Nature is scientifically proven to improve our health and well-being. But when most people are diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, their next stop is often the pharmacy. For many of us, the next stop shouldn’t be picking up a new prescription, it should be visiting one of our many parks or open spaces to walk, bike, hike, or shinrin-yoku. Since the 1980s, shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”, has become the cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japan. Forest bathing has been shown to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels, lower blood pressure, and moderate nervous system activity. It measurably, objectively and subjectively, improves your health.

The County of Marin strives to make its parks and open spaces accessible for all in Marin. On the first Saturday of every month, Measure A Day, you can enjoy free entry and free parking at all Marin County Parks. Marin County Parks has an Inclusive Access Plan to ensure visitors can use its 16,000 acres of marshland, forests, creeks, and rolling hills according to their own abilities. Now, “other power-driven mobility devices,” like mobility scooters, can be used on trails by individuals with mobility disabilities. Marin County Parks has also partnered with Marin Health and Human Services and community partners, including Marin City Health and Wellness Center, to promote the Parks Prescription Program.

Next time you see Mt. Tam rise majestically before you, think of it as a reminder that it is time to shinrin-yoku.

More resources to help older adults enjoy the outdoors:

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