There are many aspects to health. One of those is Social Wellness which is a focus during July. Just what is social wellness? Here are some aspects:

“The social dimension of wellness encourages contributing to one’s human and physical environment to the common welfare of one’s community. Social Wellness emphasizes the interdependence with others and nature…Social wellness is having positive interactions with and enjoying being with others. It is having comfort and ease during work and leisure situations and communicating feelings and needs to others. It involves developing and building close friendships and intimacy, practicing empathy and effective listening, caring for others and for the common good, and allowing others to care for you. It is recognizing the need for leisure and recreation and budgeting time for those activities.” – from Dimensions of Wellness

*Visit Dimensions of Wellness and take the brief quiz to assess your level of social wellness. You may find strengths and areas for growth.

Social wellness is an area of wellness that is always in flux. Our environment the people around us and our ability to interact is always changing.  Because of this fluid nature, it is my belief this is an area of wellness that can be strongly impacted by intergenerational interactions.

Intergenerational interactions can provide opportunities for mutual enrichment. It is often joked the old and the young have a common enemy – those in middle-aged. Appropriately structured intergenerational interactions provide both generations with needed conversation and attention.

Intergenerational interactions can help develop empathy for the “normative” and the less normal. We all process different strengths and challenges. We have different rates of development and of aging. Our unique aging process that may be coupled with a disease process makes for variety. Young people can experience people at various points on the aging and wellness cycle. Older adults can witness and experience the variety of similar and different interests of younger generations. No matter our age we all want to be accepted for who we are.

Stories from my experiences leading intergenerational programs

  • As a nursing home activity director I witnessed residents careful observations of the school calendar so they could watch and interact with the children at the elementary school across the street. Prior to these interactions, many of these residents had demonstrated little orientation to month of the year.
  • Teachers shared observing new strengths in students they didn’t observe in the classroom during our groups.
  • Students asked me questions about how they could best assist their grandfriends in our groups demonstrating a desire to engage them in the process.
  • Assisted living residents comment following sessions on developmental changes they notice in the preschoolers in our group.

What does this have to do with creativity?

What I created whether in a nursing home or an assisted living facility with elementary or preschool children was a creative process. Participants provided feedback on what worked and what they enjoyed. This informed what was offered.

The single most important need is an environment of tolerance of differences. Tolerance of these differences doesn’t happen all at once in my groups. It is an evolving process. Taking the time to discuss concerns and observations one on one has gone a long way in help create a path for tolerance.

Social wellness requires community. Planners need to look at new models for aging in place. They need to be open to plans that allow for the intersecting of generations while allowing for diverse needs and interests.

There is no single way of creating a socially well community. Yet there are things like universal design that make buildings friendly to those of differing abilities. Having doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs, bathrooms that allow for transfer issues, settings that are friendly to the needs of those with hearing or vision limitations are all important.

This all requires creativity – looking at our environment, our communities with fresh eyes.

What are some ways you can create social wellness in your family, your neighborhood, your community?

*One of the most tolerant, creative communities I have found is the monthly #ideachat. This group discusses a variety of topics in a one hour Twitter forum. If the idea of creativity, social wellness and medicine interests you consider joining the next #ideachat as an observer or a participant on Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 9AM ET.

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