The Center for Healthy Minds has a long history of studying well-being and the mind. Yet to truly pursue our vision of a kinder, wiser, more compassionate world, we need to bring cutting-edge science into people’s lives in salient ways. Compelling science is not sufficient itself to bring our vision into existence. We need to put well-being into practice amid a complex and changing world.
To help put the science into practice and to truly cultivate well-being and relieve suffering through a scientific understanding of the mind, we have created new well-being initiatives in collaboration with two specific communities – college students and faith leaders – both of which focus on well-being, equity and resilience in their respective spheres.
Supporting student well-being in higher education and research scholarship opportunities for underrepresented populations
Capacity building and outreach programs for faith leaders and culture keepers of indigenous traditions who work on environmental, climate and sustainability issues
Supporting Student Well-Being in Higher Education
The Wisconsin Student Flourishing Initiative
Today’s college students are facing serious challenges compared to previous generations. With increasing stress over finances, academics, social pressures, and future careers, students are at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and poor performance. In fact, one in three college freshmen experience mental health disorders with the most common being major depression and generalized anxiety. Because of this, colleges and universities across the United States and around the world are seeing a mental health crisis – a crisis in well-being.
Given our connection to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a premier institution of higher education, we are looking to our own backyard to put our insights on well-being into practice through The Art and Science of Human Flourishing, a first-of-its-kind, three-credit course offered to incoming first-year students. In partnership with Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia, we began researching how best to teach well-being skills and developed the Student Flourishing Initiative, which involves the course as well as co-curricular well-being programs, which are in their early development phase.
In the course, students learn some of the key ingredients of flourishing and the skills that contribute to its realization. Instructors and students explore perspectives from the sciences, the arts and the humanities, and we seek to empower students to come to their own understanding of flourishing that embraces both individual uniqueness and what is shared across and within diverse cultures and contexts. An experiential component of the course includes weekly training in various practices – such as mindfulness – that help develop the qualities and skills that can contribute to a more engaged and flourishing life.
Research Scholarship Opportunities for Underrepresented Populations
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are priorities in everything we do at the Center for Healthy Minds, including our choice of approaches to scientific inquiry, our partners, staffing and the policies and practices that contribute to the culture of equity and inclusion we desire.
In addition to an organizational focus on equity and inclusion, we are deliberately expanding the scientific community at the Center to engage scholars who are Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color. Simply put, who leads and implements research influences what is done, how it is done and what meaning is made of the outcome of the work.The Center will provide scholarship and training opportunities to support the exceptional work and development of students and professionals from populations who have been historically underrepresented or not represented at the Center.
One of the early initiatives to support exceptional undergraduate scholars is the McNair/Center for Healthy Minds Scholars Program for underrepresented undergraduate students. In partnership with the University of Wisconsin Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA), this initiative provides underrepresented undergraduate students with research opportunities at the Center. It contributes to developing advanced research skills and knowledge to support their future academic pursuits, as well as further support their already established trajectories toward advanced education and entry into scientific professions. Participants in this program are selected by teams representing both the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement at the University of Wisconsin, and the Center for Healthy Minds. Please see UW–Madison's McNair Scholars Program website https://mcnair.wisc.edu/ for information about this long standing program.
For graduate-level students and postdoctoral professionals, funding from generous donors will support underrepresented scholars as well as provide leadership development opportunities to support the scholars’ paths towards becoming professional researchers, faculty and staff.
The Loka Initiative
At the Center for Healthy Minds, we believe our well-being depends on recognizing not only our connection to all people, but the planet as well. Our ability to flourish as individuals is connected to the health and well-being of our families, communities and the earth.
Our other major program is the Loka Initiative, an award-winning capacity building and outreach program for faith leaders and culture keepers of indigenous traditions who work on environmental, climate and sustainability issues. This interdisciplinary program consists of a partnership among seven different institutions at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is housed at the Center for Healthy Minds.
At its core, Loka begins with the premise that inner, community and planetary well-being are interdependent and that we cannot achieve any one of these goals without achieving the other two. Furthermore, Loka advocates a collaborative relationship between science and religion, rather than an adversarial one, and builds upon their common interest in protecting all life on earth and ensuring a healthy environment so people can thrive. Through the Loka Initiative, faith leaders can access the programs and resources necessary to help build inner, community, and planetary resilience in spiritual as well as scientific ways.
Additionally, an area of growing interest for both scientists and faith leaders is the onset of eco-anxiety and climate distress. According to a 2018 national survey, 70 percent of people in the United States are worried about climate change and more than half feel helpless in addressing climate change. The American Psychological Association coined the term “eco-anxiety” in 2017 to refer to the fear of climate disasters and ecological breakdown largely stemming from human activities. Given the Center of Healthy Minds’ experience and expertise in addressing mental and emotional well-being, we see a partnership with faith leaders having great potential to generate practices that help people address their eco-anxiety as well as encourage practical ways to protect the planet. The Center has experience collaborating with religious leaders and practitioners as evidenced by our groundbreaking work with Buddhist communities in contemplative studies. It was only by working in conversation with Buddhist practitioners that the effects of contemplative practices could be scientifically measured. The Loka Initiative uses a similar approach, bringing religious leaders, culture keepers of indigenous traditions and scientists into conversation so that all of these parties can advance the work of addressing environmental and climate issues while safeguarding personal, community and planetary well-being.