It occurs to me as I anticipate the upcoming academic year that we often share new beginnings and we should maximize the experience. Each new beginning – whether a new academic year, planting a new tree or shrub, meeting a new friend or colleague, sharing a new experience, reading a new book – brings with it opportunity and energy. These opportunities and this energy can feed our soul with the perspective to leave some pain and disappointment in the past and fill our time and character with hope and optimism for the future.
I was struck with this phenomenon recently when I found myself getting excited for a new academic year and all the “firsts” that come with it, to be honest it took an observation from my wife Sue about her love for gardening and the joy of seeing great dirt made from compost. This new beginning, built on the remnants of what came before, reminded me of the energy that we can tap when we experience new beginnings. Remember that feeling of “butterflies in your stomach” when you were a child, and how that made engaging in new activities and meeting new people all the sweeter? We all have the adult version of those butterflies when we anticipate something new – it’s from that anticipation we can claim the energy needed to overcome anxiety and move forward with hope and a smile.
So, as many anticipate new beginnings in a day and age that can often seem toxic and negative, let’s focus on those aspects of the human experience we share, the common goals we espouse, and the dreams we have for a better life for our circle of family and friends, a better community, and a better world. One way to look at this is through the lens of our culture – all those things around us that we sometimes take for granted but form the world we experience every day. What if we worked together to change our culture to one of health – in every sense. A “Culture of Health”, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is one where everyone has the opportunity to live a healthier life and has a focus on all the aspects of life often referred to as the social determinants of health. These are factors like access to activity, good nutrition, education and opportunity that have been proven repeatedly to drive health (or lack of health). These social determinants of health can have both subtle and active impacts on our health and result in impact to physical and emotional health and life for individuals and groups.
Wherever you are starting, or watching the start of something new, be sensitive to those whose stomach butterflies are more active – and use the new energy to contribute to a culture of health in the family, community, and world where you live and work. If each of us accepts this challenge to harness our positive energy from new beginnings we can move our culture in a positive direction to the benefit of all. Positivity is contagious, and you can be a part of the next epidemic.
-David P Hoffman, Associate Professor, Ethics and Health Policy