Including Wellbeing in our Measures of Success

I appreciated a friend’s sharing with me Arianna Huffington’s recent commencement address at Smith College. Instead of the usual messages to “go out there and make more money and break more glass ceilings,” she challenged the woman graduates to redefine success. She suggested they add a third metric of success to the money and power goals that people in our culture seem consumed by, making a strong case for the importance of wellbeing as a measure of success. She also articulated the importance of wellbeing in developing wisdom, having time to wonder, and to celebrate and share the gifts that life and our accomplishments bring.

As a person who’s spent many years in academia, both as teacher and learner, I watched with special interest the camera panning across both the excited and bored faces of the graduating student body. Experience tells me that many of these students have likely sacrificed their physical and emotional wellbeing in the process of achieving their degrees. Though they may have become very much smarter about some subjects during their four years of study, I’m fairly certain they received little or no instruction or guidance on how to achieve and steward their own wellbeing. And as they move into the work world of their various careers, I don’t expect they’re likely to hear of the importance of wellbeing again.

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 Since I’m the board president of an organization called Body Wisdom Inc. that articulates and teaches the skills of wellbeing, I especially appreciated Ms. Huffington using her podium to courageously call attention to this matter. I agree with her that the present lifestyle of successful professionals; characterized by sleep-deprived, workaholic, overachieving busyness is not sustainable for individuals, families, communities and/or the planet.

 In the nearly 25 years that the improvisational art-based system of InterPlay, founded by Cynthia Winton Henry and Phil Porter, has become a social movement, spreading to 60 plus cities and five continents, we have learned that getting people out of their heads and into their bodies is the basis for developing and maintaining wellbeing. And there is an important community component to all of this. Just as stress is contagious and often driven by organizational culture, so is the sense of ease and grace that comes from being in the presence of a group of body wise individuals.

women dancing
women dancing

I noted when I arrived at Body Wisdom’s board meeting and leaders gathering last week that it was as if my body had become “dehydrated” from two much work in isolation and not enough play and rest. After a couple of days of what felt like “juicy” playful connection with others I emerged renewed and refreshed. I even met some InterPlay colleagues who teach college students some of the skills needed to achieve and maintain the wellbeing Ms. Huffington is championing.    

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