Facilitating Felicitators

Posted on 29th June 2015 by
Brighton beach by Flickr user aphexlee - Impetus derivative

Photo Credit: Aphexlee via Compfight, cc
Modified by Impetus – logo / text box / crop

At the beginning of June, the whole Neighbourhood Care Scheme (NCS) staff team (except Sharon who was on leave) and Niall Drennan, a volunteer and member of our steering group, went up to Leicester for a conference put on by Befriending Networks and Vista, a Leicester-based charity dedicated to improving the lives of people with sight loss. The conference was entitled rather grandly, “Befriending: The Road to a Happier Future”.

One of the two key-note speakers was Neil Thin, a researcher in Happiness Studies at the University of Edinburgh, who spoke on Happiness and Befriending. You can download the powerpoints from his talk here.

Several things struck me about his presentation.

Firstly, he did not really pin down what happiness is. In a way, though, this did not matter. In any activity or policy or debate, the consideration of happiness brings the idea of emotions into play. In social care, in all human activity, emotions (“feelings”) matter.

With this in mind, he introduced the idea of the “Happiness Lens” as a way of approaching policies, research and practice in an appreciative way. The lens has four aspects:

bullet point It emphasises positivity
bullet point It is empathetic
bullet point It is holistic
bullet point It considers a person’s whole life

He then, assuming we all want to help people to live better, differentiated between two ways of approaching policies and practice:

bullet point The Remedial, where we find trouble and sort it out
bullet point The Appreciative, where we learn about how happiness happens, and promote it

He saw Remedial approaches as being broadly clinical (medical, therapeutic) and related research looking at pathology and remedies needed to bring people up to a “minimally acceptable level of living”. Appreciative approaches, by contrast, focused on strengths and enjoyments, and on their maintenance and the prevention of bad things. These could be envisaged as happening above the minimally acceptable level of living, where happiness might be possible, and where life has purpose and can feel worth living.

Neil made the point that processes appropriate to the evaluation of remedial, clinical activities (e.g. double-blind trials, detailed questionnaires etc.) may not be appropriate (or have only limited validity) for the different activities in the appreciative realm.

He saw befriending as being one of these latter activities, and it is certainly a problem that we face in our daily work. A score on a wellbeing scale is unlikely to catch the full impact of a befriending relationship. It is a work in progress, trying to find a way of proving the benefit of what we do in promoting befriending, while resisting the temptation to reduce it to a purely clinical, time-limited activity. The minimally acceptable level of living is a very low level living: at NCS we encounter many people who are living lives of ordinary misery, which might be alleviated with fairly small amounts of support – support that is not available. In this context, and with the development of initiatives such as Better Care to integrate health and social care, the happiness lens is a valuable tool in seeing things more clearly.

Finally, in his talk, Neil said that he liked the term “felicitator”, which I assumed means “bringer or facilitator of happiness.” I was reminded of this recently when the organisation Action for Happiness announced its happiest people in Brighton. Some of the choices might seem a bit whimsical or Brightonesque, but the important point is that they were chosen for doing things that were aimed directly at enhancing people’s happiness. These people are felicitators – surely as important a role in any society as entrepreneurs.

Yesterday, as usual, I was writing a report and came across a quote from one of our volunteers:

“I have taken Edward out in his wheelchair to the sea as he hasn’t had that experience yet in the time he has been at his new home and he was extremely happy. Due to the 1% vision he has left he could make out the waves. It was ****ing brilliant, so happy for him!”

I think our NCS volunteers are felicitators. And we in the office are facilitating felicitators. Not a bad way to earn a living, even if we still don’t know what happiness is.

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