The Happiness Connection  

The word of our time

Inclusivity: the fact or policy of not excluding members or participants on the grounds of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc. (Dictionary.com)

It feels to me like inclusivity is the theme word of this time in history.

With hate crimes, motivated by race and religion, the findings at residential schools, and the #MeToo movement, people are standing up and saying there has to be a better way.

Even the Olympic Games are trying to get on board. They’ve added 18 new events and require an equal number of men and women for every sport (except baseball and softball that have different sized teams.) They’ve also added mixed events like swimming and triathlon relays.

I love to see this progression, but will these things really lead to a change in how we view people who are different from us?

I may feel your pain, but does that mean I’ll jump to your defence if you need me to?

According to research coming out of the University of California – Berkley, the answer to that question is no.

They’ve been studying rats to see how these rodents react when another rat is in distress.

In each trial, one animal is trapped inside a clear cylinder, while another roams freely in a larger space around this cannister. The free rodent can release the caught one, by leaning or pushing their head against the door to open it.

It turns out that rats have very similar structure and connectivity in their brains as humans. They also share the trait of being very social. They play together and help each other survive, just like humans.

When scientists want clues about human behaviour and brain response, they often start by observing rats to see how they react to certain situations.

Using advanced diagnostic tools, the research team found that all the rats they studied, experienced empathy when they saw another rat was in trouble. This means they were able to recognize and understand their predicament.

But being empathetic to another creature’s plight doesn’t mean you’ll do anything to help them. In order for that to happen, the neural reward circuit has to be triggered.

The researchers observed that this didn’t happen if the trapped rat was considered to be an outsider or stranger by his free counterpart. However, if the rodent in distress was part of the other’s pack, or the same type of rat, the neural reward circuit was triggered, and the rat was released from its prison.

The brains of humans and other mammals share virtually the same empathy and reward regions as rats. This suggests that humans behave the same way when it comes to helping someone in distress.

Empathy may not be enough to spur you into action. You may need to feel a connection of some sort to trigger you to help.

This might explain why fundraising to help someone in your community is easier than if you are trying to help people in some far-flung corner of the world.

If we want to decrease conflict between people of different religions, races, and sexual orientations, perhaps the key lies in making communities more inclusive and less segregated.

Stop and think about your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. Is there a wide selection of races, cultures, religions, etc., in them? Or do you gravitate to people with similar backgrounds?

The evidence of this team suggests that if we really want an inclusive, caring, global community, we need to build more diverse groups within our society. We need to feel more connected to people who are different to us.

Ways to get started:

  1. Spend time with people who are different from you in some way. Join a community choir, Toastmasters, or walking club. These are examples of places that attract members from a wide variety of backgrounds.
  2. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or admit that you don’t know something about another culture. Be open and ready to learn, rather than defensive and closed to new ideas and information.
  3. Observe, don’t judge.
  4. Focus on what you have in common with others, not on what’s different.

It’s only by making conscious decisions to do things differently, that we can create an inclusive, happy, and more peaceful world.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]om

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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