Well-being is a Skill

Seven Arrows is committed to the emotional well-being of every student. We have weekly Council in every classroom, designed to help students gain confidence and take risks by talking about important topics close to their heart. Our students participate in Mindfulness classes that develop their moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and surrounding environment.

Dr. Richard Davidson is a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Founder-Director of the Center for Healthy Minds. In a webinar hosted by Amir H. Imani, Dr. Davidson discussed how training your brain to cultivate well-being can have positive effects on your happiness, creativity and productivity.

“In the early part of my career I focused a lot on how we respond to adversity. And then in 1992 I met the Dalai Lama for the first time, and he challenged me and said, ‘You have been using these tools of modern neuroscience to study stress and adversity and anxiety and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ That was very much a wake-up call for me. I began to shift the work that we were doing toward the more virtuous qualities of the mind. And that leads us really all the way to the present. […]

“One is neuroplasticity, which simply refers to the notion that our brains are shaped by experience. Our brains are constantly being shaped, willingly or unwillingly, which means that there are times when our brains are shaped by forces around us about which we are only dimly aware or perhaps completely unaware. And we have very little control over many of those forces.

“So our brains are constantly being changed by the events around us, by the experiences that we have. The invitation – and it really goes back to your comment at the beginning, Amir – is that we can take more responsibility for our own brains. By cultivating virtuous qualities, by training our mind, it turns out that we can change our brains in ways that promote more enduring changes that support human flourishing. So neuroplasticity is really an important theme.

“A second theme related to neuroplasticity, in the realm of genomics, is epigenetics. Epigenetics is the science of how genes are regulated. We are born with a sequence of base pairs that constitute our DNA, and for the most part, except for some rare circumstances, the sequence itself will not change as we go through life. What will change is the extent to which any given gene is turned on or off.

“You can think of genes as having little volume controls, molecular volume controls, which determine the extent to which the gene is manufacturing the protein for which it is designed. What we find in hard-nosed research is that our experiences can actually influence the extent to which a gene is turned on or off. […]

“The third theme I would very briefly like to mention is called Innate Basic Goodness. What we mean by this is that we are actually born into the world with a propensity to prefer warm-hearted, cooperative, altruistic interactions rather than selfish, greedy or aggressive interactions. And this is quite remarkable. It’s not to stay that the bad stuff isn’t there, but, if given a choice, we will choose a warm-hearted, pro-social alternative compared to one that is selfish and aggressive.”For more information, go to Heartfulness Magazine.