In the World Happiness Report, an annual survey that uses Gallup poll data to assess life satisfaction and citizen well-being in 150 nations, Denmark consistently earns top ranking. In fact, the Danish prioritize health and well-being to such an extent that they have coined a single, dedicated word for it: “hygge.” Within Danish culture, the concept of “hygge” holds deep significance, embodying the feelings of warmth, security and contentment arising from moments shared with close companions in a cozy setting.
Denmark isn’t alone in valuing health and well-being so much that they designate a single term to describe it. The Bantu-speaking nations of Zimbabwe and South Africa embrace “ubuntu,” which focuses on compassion through humanity to neighbors. Croatia uses “fjaka” to encapsulate the state of distraction-free tranquility and inner peace that comes with downtime, while Germany has “Waldeinsamkeit” to encourage citizens to seek the serenity that comes from solitude in nature. Each term reflects how each culture envisions the means to wellness differently and, in turn, reflects a unique facet of the many and varied ways that people across the globe pursue health and wellness.
Defining Health & Well-Being at Blair
Though English lacks a single, resonant term to encapsulate health and well-being, at Blair, we highly prioritize these values. Ensuring health and well-being for students encompasses a wide variety of initiatives that include supporting spirituality and fostering a culture of inclusion, so that every member of the community feels a sense of belonging. It means promoting healthy nutrition, sleep and time management habits, as well as providing regular opportunities for all community members to exercise meditation and mindfulness practices, which reduce stress and anxiety while boosting self-awareness and joy. Of course, Blair’s team of full-time counseling professionals also serves as a confidential resource where students can talk through different stressors, support them with problem solving, interpersonal skills, and help them to develop tools to deal with the challenges that will inevitably arise.
Blair’s Director of Counseling, Ally Thomas, LCSW, underscores the importance of student involvement in informing the School’s holistic approach to well-being: “Student organizations, like Project Ally and Be Well, bring attention to themes that students want to learn more about. School counselors often hear themes in the conversations we have with individual students as well. There are also various adult spaces where we discuss areas of need when it comes to supporting students, like our student focused Health and Wellbeing Committee.” In addition, she says, Blair gleans insight from the data collected from its Authentic Connections surveys. “All of those factors help refine our strategies for supporting students’ health and well-being.”
This year, Blair has also increased educational and programmatic offerings to help students, families, and all those interested in learning how to support children’s wellness. “We know parents and guardians are an important part of a student's team. We want to ensure parents are equipped with information and tools to help their student,” Mrs. Thomas says. “The more informed parents are with the issues teens are facing—and the better they know how to support their student—the better the outcome for the students.”
Empowering Parents & Guardians
As Mrs. Thomas knows, many of the issues that parents find children facing today are not ones with which they have deep experience. Social media, she says, is just one example. “The online interaction that exists today is nothing like what existed when most parents were teens. In many ways, our kids are navigating things that we, as parents, aren’t always fully familiar with. It is so important to give information that is current and also try to help parents navigate those situations with their kids.”
Through Blair’s new Adolescent Health & Well-Being Series, speakers have visited the hilltop throughout the year for all-School presentations about topics related to adolescent health and well-being. These programs are paired with parent education sessions so Blair can better partner with parents.
The first to occur this year featured Max Stossel, founder and CEO of Social Awakening. Recognized by Forbes as one of the best storytellers of the year, Mr. Stossel, a former social media strategist who once designed notification structures in social media apps, now advocates for disconnecting from social media devices to lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives. During an all-School presentation in September, Mr. Stossel spoke to Blair students about the impact of technology on their lives and encouraged them to prioritize real-life connections, which bring much greater fulfillment.
In subsequent sessions, Blair welcomed pediatrician and adolescent medicine practitioner Dr. Monique Nickels who offered a medical perspective and discussed substance use and the effect on the teenage brain. On the evening of Monday, February 12, clinical psychologist Dr. Kathleen Wawrzyniak Webb ’95 will speak to the various ways that anxiety can present in young adults and how parents can support adolescents dealing with anxiety. Dr. Webb is the founder of Greater Hartford Wellness in Avon, Connecticut, and specializes in anxiety and trauma in adolescence.
“All these speakers are about giving kids the tools for taking care of themselves and giving parents the tools to support their children,” Mrs. Thomas notes. The Adolescent Health & Well-Being Series will continue to bring expert perspectives to campus next year with the aim of educating and empowering students to make healthful changes in their own lives.
Building a Wellness Lexicon
Like the nations of Denmark and Zimbabwe, Germany and Croatia, over time, Blair has cultivated its own unique lexicon to capture health and wellness that reflects an informed, holistic approach and that recognizes there is no one way to be well. Rather, we provide different opportunities for our students—exposing them to academic coursework, spaces for spirituality, prevention wellness education, exposure to mindfulness practices and resources to meet individual needs, through our health center and school counseling teams. In addition to the comprehensive support we offer students, we know it is imperative to also equip the adults in their lives with information and tools. Blair intentionally does this through faculty training and is now providing this opportunity for parents and guardians. We’re excited to be partnering with parents in this new way.
All those wishing to tune in to Dr. Webb’s presentation on February 12 can do so here.