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Why having fun is good for you

We all know that leisure time makes us feel good, but now scientific evidence shows that taking time out and engaging in activities you enjoy really does lead to both psychological and physical wellbeing.

It’s a well-established fact that physically healthy actions such as eating well and getting enough sleep make us feel better, it is much harder to prove that taking the time to do our ‘mindapples’ is good for us too. Recent research carried out by Pressman and colleagues (2009) has examined how leisure activities affect our wellbeing. They defined these as “pleasurable activities that individuals engage in voluntarily when they are free from demands of work and responsibilities”, but we might call them mindapples.

They proposed that these everyday activities are more than just something we enjoy doing, but also have a beneficial effect for coping and restoration, particularly at times of stress. Taking time out to relax with a cup of tea or spending time in nature can serve as a “breather”, a chance to take a break and distract oneself from demands and concerns that occupy the mind. Leisure activities can also act as “restorers”, helping us cope with stress by replenishing our resources, for example through spending time with loved ones who make us feel cared for and more able to cope. They based this on previous research showing that common categories of social, physical, nature-related, reflective and creative activities were found to be restorative (Jansen & Sadovsky, 2004), categories that we often find in the mindapples suggestions.

Pressman and colleagues investigated the effects by measuring how much time participants were able to spend time doing the activities they enjoyed and compared it to their self-reported psychological wellbeing, as well as blood pressure, stress hormone levels (cortisol) and other physiological factors.

What they found was that individuals that spent more time engaging in enjoyable activities did in fact have greater psychological and physical wellbeing. This included greater experience of positive emotion (positive affect), life satisfaction and engagement, lower depression scores, greater social support, lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, and better perceived physical function.

Another particularly interesting aspect showed that engaging in leisure activities can act as a “stress buffer”. Individuals with greater stress levels (i.e. had recently experienced stressful life events) who took the time to engage in these activities showed lower levels of negative moods and depression and higher positive affect, than individuals who experienced stress but did not spend time on enjoyable activities. This shows that “breathers” or “restorers” promote positive wellbeing and restoration by providing the individual with necessary resources to cope with stress.

So, while it might not be as easy to measure as getting enough sleep or eating vitamin C, it seems you really can take care of yourself by simply remembering to spend time doing the things you enjoy.

Getting 5-a-day for your mind can be good for your mental wellbeing, your physical health, and act as a buffer for coping with stress. And who knows you might even have fun. So, have you had your mindapples?

By Ruta Marcinkus

References:

Pressman, S. D., Matthews, K. A., Cohen, S., Martire, L. M., Scheier, M., Baum, A. & Schulz, R. (2009) Association of Enjoyable Leisure Activities With Psychological and Physical Well-Being. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71, 725-732.

Jansen, D.A., von Sadovszky, V. (2004) Restorative activities of community-dwelling elders. Promotional Usb Drives West J Nurs Res, 26, 381-399.

Mindapples Press: December 2010 Edition

As someone who has taken an interest in the growth and development of Mindapples over 2010, I thought you might appreciate a little update on where we’ve got to and where we’re headed!

NHS pilot

As I announced earlier this week, we now have a confirmed grant from Guys and St Thomas’s Charity to pilot Mindapples with GP surgeries across Lambeth. We will be installing Mindapples materials in four Lambeth GP practices to begin with, and asking the staff and patients of each practice to share their Mindapples via the installations. Mindapples will then be analysing the responses and helping the practices design simple ways to support the wellbeing of their staff and patients, and we’ll also then do follow-up marketing and digital engagement services.The project will be evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry and Kings College London to give us a core evidence base to show to other funders and NHS organisations, particularly with a view to selling services to the new GP consortia when they’re established in 2011. We’re looking to recruit some volunteers and interns to help with this project, so if you think you have something to bring please e-mail iseehealthypeople@mindapples.org

Engagement events

In the past six months, the Mindapples Tree has travelled to the Future Gallery in London, the Secret Garden Party, Camp Bestival, the Big Chill, the Playgroup Festival, Brixton Market, Millwall FC and the NHS Confederation Mental Wellbeing Conference. Over the summer we have harvested over 1255 mindapples, including 444 from the Secret Garden Party postboxes and tree combo alone. I’m particularly pleased with our Brixton Market event, in which we popped up one Saturday and successfully engaged 170 total strangers in sharing their mindapples in just three hours. There are also lots and lots of photos online now on our new Flickr page. Thanks to everyone who volunteered to help out, particularly Hege for the Big Treat, Jenny and Lucy for the festivals campaign, and Esther for all the recent conferences and pop-ups.
Big thanks also to Lucy for doing the evaluation on all this for us, and if you’d like a copy of the evaluation report please e-mail ilovestatsmmmmlovely@mindapples.org.

The People Speak have made this great video of our Brixton Market event. Please do send it on!

Fundraising

Thanks to many people and to Esther, Mandeep, Amanda, Christine and Tessy in particular, we have also submitted a large bid to the Maudsley Charity for core funding and product development, and will be applying for various other charitable grants in early 2011 using the evidence base we’ve collected over the summer. Fundraising has been slow though, mainly because of our lack of core resources, so we’re looking for help in this area urgently. There’s a lot we don’t know in this area and I’m sure we could be doing more. Any help you can offer with our next round of funding bids would be amazing. Please e-mail iknowhowtogetmoney@mindapples.org

Sales

We have been developing a range of products to sell to commercial and healthcare clients for a while now, and we are finally making some headway. Focussing at this stage on engagement services, particularly workshops, digital tools and promotional materials, we are getting a lot of enquiries and now some sales for workshops and installations to commercial and charitable clients. We are hoping to grow this workshop business in 2011 and then offer our clients higher value services that deliver deeper wellbeing outcomes, including digital subscription services and offering Big Treat events for staff in large workplaces. Of course there’s a lot more to do here, but we’re definitely making good progress, and we are confident now that there is a market for what we do. For more information on our products and services, please e-mail buyingthingsmakesmehappy@mindapples.org.

Talks and lobbying

We’ve been something of a hit at conferences and with the wider policy community recently. Huge thanks to Marjorie for her great efforts promoting us at the Tory and LibDem Conferences, and I’ve also spoken at the Guardian Social Care Conference, the NHS Confederation Mental Wellbeing Conference, the SLaM NHS Wellbeing Conference, the Robertson Cooper Business Wellbeing Network Conference and also various social innovation events and meetups. At the Business Wellbeing Conference, we were on the same bill as Lord Richard Layard, and the Mindapples session was voted the most popular of the day by the 100+ delegates, a staggering 4.76 out of 5! Thanks to Tony, Lucy, Gregor, Nicola, Ravi and others, we’re also becoming increasingly known within the NHS and the policy community, and have been consulted on the various White Papers emerging from the new Government. Tessy and I are now hoping to build on this by writing a policy pamphlet about the innovative Mindapples engagement methodology. If anyone would like to help us by doing some research into mental health promotion policy for this pamphlet, drop us a line at mylittlepolicywonk@mindapples.org.

Website

Back in the Summer, we received a Better Net Award from UnLtd and Nominet Trust to redevelop our website, and huge thanks to Hege, Rose, Victoria and Analia for all their help with that. The new site was built by Unboxed Consulting, Sangeet and Tom, and thanks to Hege and Gavin for their help too back in July. It’s basic, but it’s a great starting point and we’re consistently getting a few signups a day without any promotion. We’ll promote it more heavily once we’ve got the next version up, which will include Networks functionality to allow organisations to have their own mini-mindapples survey and community, and also various follow-up engagement tools. If anyone would like to help me test the next version of the website, please e-mail me at makemeataster@mindapples.org.

Organisation

We founded Mindapples as a non-profit Company Limited by Guarantee in May 2010, with myself, Tessy and Hege as the initial guarantors. Thanks to Nicola and Esther we are now properly set up with good accounting processes, VAT registration and all those other grown up things. We have also been slowly professionalising the organisation, with things like IP licensing and confidentiality agreements and the beginnings of contracts for staff and volunteers. I think we are in good shape for the coming year of expansion, although obviously there’s always more to do in this area. I’ll make sure we share as many of our models as we can to help other start-ups. Thanks very much to Louise for her support and constant favour-pulling to get us the advice we’ve needed in this area. We definitely need more help with our communications next year, so if you can help us send updates to the Gardeners and our wider community, please contact meandmybigmouth@mindapples.org.

As you can see, it’s been a very busy year and many people have contributed to our successes in 2010. I’d particularly like to thank Hege, who worked tirelessly on the Big Treat earlier in the year and has now gone on to found her own project, All We Need; Esther, who has taken on all our operational management in recent months and is doing amazing work turning us into a Proper Organisation, Amanda, Jenny and Lucy for all their great work at our events and writing such great reports, and particularly to Tessy for working a lot harder than people realise behind the scenes, keeping me (mostly) sane and quietly pushing things in the right direction at all times. I remain really proud and privileged to have so many talented and enthusiastic people helping me to make Mindapples a success, including all of you out there in our extended online family. THANK YOU ALL for your hard work, support, advice, and most of all for believing in this project. 2011 is going to be a very good year.

A very happy Christmas to you all.
Andy x

As someone who has taken an interest in the growth and development of Mindapples over 2010, I thought you might appreciate a little update on where we’ve got to and where we’re headed.
2

Happy World Mental “Health” Day

Hello folks, and a very happy World Mental Health Day to you all!

To celebrate, Mindapples have been on tour around London, beginning in Brixton on Thursday and Saturday, and culminating in installing the Mindapples Tree at CityCamp London in the Hub King Cross today. It’s been an amazing few days, stepping far out of our comfort zone to get as broad a rane of people as we could in considering the health of their minds. Huge thanks to Lucy Smith at NHS Lambeth for hiring us, to Spacemakers and Transition Town Brixton for hosting us yesterday, and to Futuregov and the gang at CityCamp for welcoming us today.

For two years now, Mindapples hasn’t done anything for World Mental Health Day. Yes, it’s partly because we’re disorganised, but it’s also because, frankly, we don’t feel a great affinity with it. Let’s face it, today is actually World Mental Illness Day. It’s really important for us to honour and support people who suffer from mental distress and those who care for them – but is it really Mental Health Day? If it was, surely we should be promoting the positive things that we all want to have – a healthy mind, a positive experience of life – and giving people a really strong image of a mentally healthy lifestyle they can be a part of? 40% of our mental wellbeing is down to our “outlook and activities” (according to Lykken, D, 1999), so why are we never told that? Why aren’t we talking about that today? Where do we fit, as individuals and as a society, in this world of “mental health”?

So on 10/10/10, Mindapples is asking everyone to join us in making this World Mental Health Day about health, not illness. Please comment here and share your stories about what you’ve done and how you’ve felt when your mind is really feeling good, and share your mindapples to get as many people as possible talking about mental health as a good thing, that we can all be a part of.

We all have minds, and we all have mental health; so let’s celebrate how well we’re all doing, and remind ourselves how similar we all are for once.

Happy Mindapples Day everyone!

Posted by Andy

1

Hand Made Health

I settled down this morning to have a proper read-through Mindapples Co-founder Tessy Britton’s extraordinary new book, Hand Made, and feel inspired to write a post about it. In fact, two posts – you can see my thoughts on its social and policy implications over here.

The book collects a beautiful set of stories about creative new projects that build connection and community, and features projects as diverse as social media surgeries and artistic collaborations, to the regeneration of Brixton Market and even Mindapples itself. I’d particularly recommend Tessy’s essay at the start, which collects the common elements of the projects and makes some great observations about the most effective ways to build connection and community.

What I find most striking about the stories though is that they are all based on our abilities as individuals to take control of the world around us. In his contribution, Tessy’s collaborator David Gauntlett cites radical reformer (and inspiration for our School of Everything project) Ivan Illich: “A convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others.”

In developing Mindapples, Tessy and I have talked a lot about boosting individuals’ sense of agency, autonomy and control. We spend so much time being passive, as consumers, as patients, as citizens, that it can be difficult sometimes to imagine how we might shape the world around us at all. Recent statistics (although I can’t find a reference for this yet) apparently suggest that American teenagers, whilst boasting enhanced confidence and self-esteem, are 30% less likely now than in the 1970s to say that they have any control over their lives. We are treating the wrong thing.

We are becoming a society of victims, prisoners of a system that we feel has not been made by us. But we are the system: there is nothing beyond “us”. And as David himself says in his essay: “making the world your own, and making your mark on the world, rather than merely receiving a manufatured environment assembled by external others – is absolutely central to our health and our wellbeing”. Mindapples is based on the simple premise that we all have something useful to contribute to our own health, and all we need to do is tell stories about that and support everyone to get what they know they need to be well, and we can make our society healthier together.

If anyone’s ever wondered why I call myself Head Gardener at Mindapples (apart from the obvious pun), it’s this: I see the task of growing Mindapples as gardening. All we do is create the conditions for people to thrive and grow, and they do the rest. We don’t take credit for all the wonderful things that bloom in the Mindapples garden, but we do get to enjoy them. We may not be perfect, scientific, accurate or even right all the time. But to steal one of Tessy’s best quotes from the book, as Thomas More writes in Utopia in 1516: “things will never be perfect, until human beings are perfect – which I don’t expect them to be for a number of years.”

So, here’s to being human, imperfect, and hand made. And thank you Tessy for placing Mindapples in such illustrious company, we’re very proud indeed.

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A brief history of mindfulness

Hang out around mental health circles either side of the Atlantic at the moment and soon enough you’ll hear someone talking about mindfulness. And here in the UK, the status of mindfulness as official flavour of the psychotherapist’s month was secured this year when the Mental Health Foundation launched its Be Mindful project.

With its well-presented website, it is mainly a campagn to encourage the NHS to make mindfulness-based courses more widely available, especially given the effectiveness of their clinical application to endemic conditions such as depression, anxiety and chronic pain. But what I find surprising about Be Mindful – apart from its refreshing aesthetic – is that nowhere in the materials does it say what mindfulness actually is. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The M word. But before we enter the murky world of definitions, let me tell you a quick story. Quite some time ago, a young(ish) man, thanks to an extraodinary amount of curiosity and dedication, came to deeply understood something really quite radical about what it is to be human and the role the mind has to play in the way we experience life. His name was Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha. In the centuries and millenia that followed his life, that strangest of things – a institutionalised religion (in this case Buddhism) – emerged and evolved into various forms across Asia.

Fast forward to the 1970s and a bunch of young (am I allowed to say hippies?) travelled to India, Burma and Thailand and trained with some rather skillful Buddhist meditation masters and in turn got rather good at this meditation thing themselves. Eventually their visas ran out so returning to the USA and Europe they somehow found the means to start to teach and share the more Westerner-friendly subset of the Buddhist tools and techniques – badged as vipassana or insight meditation. And what they themselves had learnt were in turn also just a subset of the tools and techniques avialable in the enormously richness of the Buddhist traditions.

Then, in the final part of this brief trilogy, one day in the early 80′s a chap asked the simple question: given that the human mind is independent of denominations, do we have to limit the teaching of these powerful and transformative mental practices to Buddhists only? His name was Jon Kabat-Zinn who as well as being an insight meditation student was a clinical researcher in mental health and he went on to become the pioneering figure in the translation of insight meditation into a clinical setting for the treatment of mental health and chronic illness. And the courses and provisions that are growing in prevalance originate from his design.

Ok that’s all very nice, but what is it? Mindfulness is the core element of Buddhist meditation. Indeed the major meditation instructions from the original canon of the Buddha’s teaching is called “the talk on the ways in which to apply mindfulness”. And as someone who has practised mindfulness meditation for some years now, it is both exciting and amusing to see it with such a high profile. I know first hand how transformative it can be in dissolving negative mental patterns, increasing happiness and encouraging profound wellbeing. So to see it grow in application and utility is a cause of great joy. But with that comes the concern that mindfulness meditation becomes yoga-fied… popularised to such a degree that not only is the richness of the tradition lost (e.g. yoga as just fancy stretching) but also those that pertain to be teachers have only a very limited understanding of the full potential of practice.

Come on now, just tell me what it is! Kabat-Zinn’s definition is that mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This is really quite good in that it defines mindfulness as not being a thing in itself but a way of relating to experience, and also an intentional process. If I may be so bold as to offer my own definition, it would be that mindfulness is a natural quality of mind which arises when we relax our struggle with experience, neither pushing or pulling life as it presents itself but instead allowing and even embracing it. And as we intentionally develop this quality, it can lead us to deeper and deeper levels of peace and wellbeing. And without doubt, it is most effectively developed through a regular meditation practice.

Meditation is a word which means all things to all men and it too was curiously (almost) absent from the Be Mindful website. This might indicate that the word still carries with it a lack of seriousness in clinical circles, still associated with the 60s/70s counter-culture that first brought it to the Western attention. It however is an error to confuse the wrapping paper for the gift. Until now the majority of people doing the trying and testing wore love beads and dreadlocks. But today they instead have stethoscopes around their necks, own MRI machines and brandish feedback forms. The sooner we recognise meditation for what it is the better. It is a suite of tried and tested systems for the development of mental qualities that lead to happiness (and even beyond). Hallelujah.

This is a guest post by Rohan Gunatillake. Rohan writes about contemporary Buddhism at 21awake and is currenly developing the Hear&Now Project, a design-led set of tools for urban meditation.