Happiness—it’s a simple concept that isn’t always easy to come by, especially coming out of the year that was 2020.
That’s why practitioners at the Peaks to Prairies Primary Care Network are encouraging Albertans to become familiar with the tools of well-being through the community workshop they offer called Happiness Basics.
“It’s all about attitude, mindfulness, and awareness,” explained Colleen Simon, a registered nurse (RN) who works with chronic disease management at Peaks to Prairies Primary Care Network (PCN), located in Olds, about an hour north of Calgary.
“We are providing [the participants] with the insight, strategies, and tools, but it’s their responsibility to embrace what works for them and to actually put it into practice…”
Based on positive psychology and developed by the Red Deer Primary Care Network in 2012, Happiness Basics focuses on the development of thinking patterns, behaviours, and experiences that help improve the quality of a person’s day-to-day life, filling in gaps in mental health supports within both rural and urban communities. The course has been offered through the PCN in Olds and Sundre since 2017 and, as of this year, at 14 additional PCNs throughout the province.
“At the time we started to offer Happiness Basics, our PCN had few mental health supports to offer patients,” explained Ruth Wiens, an RN and clinical lead at Peaks to Prairies. “[Alberta Health Services’ programs] focused on those with moderate to severe depression, which left a large number of individuals without access to resources. By offering Happiness Basics, we were able to reach out to those who were struggling with mild to moderate depression.”
Focusing on the development of new skills and habits, Happiness Basics covers 17 topics over the course of seven weeks, including mindfulness exercises, optimistic thinking, time management, and gratitude.
“There’s a lot of information in the course, and I honestly think it should be taught in high school so people can have a better understanding of themselves and other people,” shared Don Dahlgren, an Olds resident who took the course in 2019.
“It takes three positive experiences to overcome one negative experience,” he said while flipping through the materials and recalling the learnings he took from the class. “That’s a pretty powerful statement right there.”
Combining the material with group discussion, Happiness Basics uses the experiences of participants to enhance the content, provide additional perspectives, and create a supportive environment for those in the class.
“On Day 1, we try to build a real [environment] of trust and non-judgmentalness and it’s just incredible to watch the progression of the group participation in subsequent weeks,” said Simon, explaining how important this openness is for the program’s success. “Week 2, they’re more interactive; Week 4, we have to calm them down; and, by the end of the seven weeks, the feedback that we’ve received is that the other participants assisted in the well-being of others.
“While we facilitate [the program] and give [out] physical materials, it’s the participants [who] extract the richness of the content and put it in their dialogue and their own life experiences,” she offered. “I never really knew the power of group participation until I started teaching groups.”
Expressing the same appreciation for his fellow classmates, Dahlgren said he hopes more people will sign up for the class to benefit from the two-hour group sessions in the same way he did.
“Everybody brought something different to the rest of the class—different perspectives—and that made the class,” he shared. “We all see the world through our own eyes, and this way you were able to see the world through 10 or 12 different people’s eyes. What makes me happy doesn’t necessarily make the next person happy.”
While we facilitate [the program] and give [out] physical materials, it’s the participants [who] extract the richness of the content and put it in their dialogue and their own life experiences. I never really knew the power of group participation until I started teaching groups.”
– Colleen Simon, registered nurse, Peaks to Prairies Primary Care Network
Happiness Basics typically runs twice a year in Olds and Sundre, but COVID-19 forced PCN officials to adjust the program in order to continue sharing resources and workshops.
“During the pandemic, we have needed to be flexible [so we] transitioned to a virtual platform … to continue to offer the service,” explained Simon. “We hope to get back to in-person workshops soon, but appreciate the value of having an alternative method of delivery. [We] anticipate that we will offer both in-person and virtual options in the future.”
“We want to reduce as many barriers to participation as possible,” added Wiens, noting it’s important for the PCN to tailor each session to meet community needs.
“Although, geographically, Olds and Sundre are only 30 minutes apart, we’ve found that the towns are quite different in many ways and offering the group in both communities allows us to embrace some of each community’s unique attributes.”
To learn more about Happiness Basics and how to get involved, or to see what other workshops and programs are offered by Peaks to Prairies PCN, call 587-796-0765 or visit www.peakstoprairiespcn.com.
To find a PCN near you or to see where Happiness Basics is offered nearest you, visit https://albertafindadoctor.ca/workshops/home.
— Lesley Allan