What an amazing week this has been!!! But before I explain why, let's start with a quiz: "Where do Human Rights Activists dance (literally) with state leaders?"
This week, Young Happy Minds has been at The Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF). This event was described by The Economist as "the human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum". But it is still a bit of a hidden gem in Norway (which is another reason why I wanted to write about it). This mind-blowing event surely deserves some words and highest praise. It has a unique blend of participants and guests, a highly professional production and it is in many ways a world-class, unique conference. In my opinion every school teacher should enter their class, every student should ask their teacher to take them, and everyone else with a bit of a heart should join too. That means pretty much every single one of us. The event features some quite remarkable speakers from around the globe. Extraordinary people who have found meaning in devoting themselves to a higher cause. The spectrum this year reached from the first African Nobel Prize winner (which was not Mandela), Wole Soyinka, who talked about his fight for Nigeria's struggle for independence, to "Sahara's Gandhi" Aminatou Haidar, and Jimmy Wales - the founder of Wikipedia.
The vision of the founder Thor Halvorssen, is to make the world a more peaceful, prosperous, and free place. He wants to encourage taking action and to change what is wrong or build on what is right.
What´s the link with Young Happy Minds?
In our program for youth we teach Positive Psychology, which ironically was developed by a former professor of Thor Halvorssen at the University of Pennsylvania, Martin Seligman Ph.D. "Marty" as Thor calls him was also President of the American Psychological Association when he recognised a need to research what "is right" and not only what "is wrong". He allocated tens of millions of dollars in research (much of the studies done at Harvard University) and this became the beginning of modern Positive Psychology. We are btw humbled, thrilled and excited that we will have the honour to speak alongside Martin Seligman at the IPEN event in Dallas in July - the largest festival on Positive Education in the world!
There is happiness in meaning
The well-being theory (PERMA), is the backbone of Positive Psychology. The theory has five measurable elements (PERMA), that counts towards your well-being. If you rate high in all of them, you are regarded a flourishing human being.
Contrary to popular belief, the pursuit of happiness is not a hedonistic thing. Not if you follow "Marty's" model, the one we teach. For example the M in the PERMA-model, Meaning, is all about belonging to and serving something that is bigger than yourself. And this can sometimes be anything but pleasurable. It can be lonely and harsh, but it gives us purpose and a sense of a meaningful life.
Turning trauma into growth
Thor Halvorssen has been through some tough times. His dad was imprisoned and tortured in Venezuela for investigating the Medellin cartel for possible money laundering, and his mum (a descendant of Venezuela's first two presidents Mendosa and Bolivar) was shot during a peaceful demonstration. But Thor found meaning in turning his situation around to a life-purpose. This was the same for Bjørn Ihler, one of this year's speakers and a survivor from the 2011 terrorist attack at the Utøya island. Most of the speakers probably share a similar destiny. Instead of surrendering to a situation of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrom (PTSD), they turned the trauma into a situation of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG).
“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” - Nietzsche
A $125 million program in the US uses Positive Psychology to help war veterans become more resilient and to help them recognise that the trauma of combat can change them for the better. The results from one of the first studies conducted on aviators captured during the Vietnam war reported that as much as 61 % of the veterans said that they benefitted psychologically from their ordeal. They were basically happier after the trauma than they were before the trauma! Personal transformation came from new appreciation of being alive and by acting on new possibilities.
Choosing a purpose
However, most of us don't have a traumatic story like Thor's, the war veterans or many of the speakers at OFF. And many of us find it hard to identify what is meaningful to us. We are waiting for our life-purpose to appear and we often hear the term "finding meaning". However, we can search forever for our meaning and never find it. What we need to do is to choose our meaning. Choose our purpose. And it doesn't have to be in the scale of the human rights activists at Oslo Freedom Forum. It can be in the way of something small. For example if you work as a cleaner, you can see it as "I'm cleaning people's dirt" or you can make it meaningful by regarding it as "I'm making it beautiful for people".
A price on his head
Back to the conference... In one of the breaks I happened to stand next to one of the speakers in a coffee-line. Abdalaziz Alhamza is the co-founder of a group of activists who use journalism to expose terror tactics of ISIS in Syria. He is 24 years old and tells me that IS has a price on his head and that he feels uncomfortable the days when he does not get death-threats. The norm for him is daily threats, so the days they don't occur - he feels like something is wrong.
This random "small talk" in the coffee line kind of puts everything into perspective...
So if you're reading this as one of our students in the UK, one of the young people we've worked with in the refugee camp, or you are just someone who came across this blog-post, my question to you is: What is your meaning, your passion and purpose? Have you found it? Or rather have you "chosen it"? If not, go ahead and choose a purpose that can contribute to something larger than yourself.
And if you're reading this and hail from Norway, one of the 6th richest countries in the world: This applies to you too. Take action and get your ass to OFF next year!
Btw: The image with the circles above is a good tool to use when trying to find ones IKIGAI (a Japanese word describing meaning as "a reason for being" or "what you wake up in the morning for"). Click on the image, print out the form and fill out the circles as good as you can. This will help you identify where to put your focus. Don´t hesitate to contact us if you need any help with it!