Why I’m Optimistic in 2023

Why I’m Optimistic in 2023

Finding Hope in a World Full of Challenges

Reflecting on the past year, it’s easy to feel discouraged. We are facing multiple ongoing crises in mental and physical health, the environment, economic inflation, political divisiveness, civil unrest, and war. Social injustice remains rampant. These concerns should not be dismissed, and I want to start by emphasizing that optimism in no way neglects their importance. Nor do encouraging statistics take away from the fact that every needless death is a tragedy.

However, it’s also important – for our own sanity – to consider the good news. I often describe to my clients how our brains are hard-wired to pay more attention to negative events or feelings than positive ones. This is a well-studied psychological phenomenon known as negativity bias. It can lead to rumination and even depression. We recall criticism better than praise. We remember negative events more strongly than positive ones, and think about bad things more frequently than good things. Counterintuitively, our brains do this for our own benefit. It is far more important for survival to know where the dangers are than to take time to appreciate the wonders of life!

We see this reflected in our news and social media: negative and alarming news grips our attention, and so it gets more airtime. We click more frequently on alarming headlines, so they get published more often. This amplifies the illusion that the world is threatening by default.

We cannot make effective change when trapped in a state of despair. To avoid such a toll, it is important to balance our negativity bias with mindful awareness of what’s going well. And it turns out there are many, many good things happening!

Discovering Optimism

One antidote to the prevailing doom-and-gloom narrative of our time can be found in Matt Ridley’s Book The Rational Optimist. He uses hard data and historical analysis to show that we have made incredible progress in recent centuries, and this trend of increased prosperity is likely to continue as we innovate and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

Another important book is the late brilliant physician Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. He writes:

“Every group of people I ask thinks the world is more frightening, more violent, and more hopeless—in short, more dramatic—than it really is.

Uncontrolled, our appetite for the dramatic goes too far, prevents us from seeing the world as it is, and leads us terribly astray.

Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving. Not on every single measure every single year, but as a rule. Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview.”

Such thinking is not new, either. Even back in 1830, British historian Thomas Macaulay posited:

“Hence it is that, though in every age everybody knows that up to his own time progressive improvement has been taking place, nobody seems to reckon on any improvement during the next generation. … On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

So, what exactly is all this progress that thinkers like Ridley, Rosling, and Macauley are talking about? Here are some examples.

Good News for a Change

Poverty is declining.

Globally, the number of people living below the poverty line (defined as living on less than $2.15 USD a day, in 2017 dollars) fell from 2.01 billion people (37.8% of the population) in 1991 to 648 million people (8.44% of the population) in 2019. It is still too early to calculate precisely how the covid-19 pandemic affected this trend; preliminary estimates indicate it may have pushed 70 million people or about 9% of the population back into extreme poverty in 2020. Yet the overall trend continues as it has for past decades. In 2017 renowned economist Max Roser commented that “Newspapers could have had the headline ‘Number of people in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday’ every day in the last 25 years.” For more insights, see his excellent research website Our World in Data.

Population growth is stabilizing.

Although the global population is still growing, the rate of growth has been slowing down since 1968 in an accurately predicted manner. The population is expected to peak somewhere around 10.4 billion people in the year 2100, and then decline. With reduced poverty comes gains in education and health, and declines in child mortality, all of which are associated with lower birth rates.

The rapid decline in child mortality deserves its own emphasis: Hans Rosling once stated that “child survival is the new green.” According to his educational website Gapminder.org, “saving poor children is an important factor in ending both poverty and population growth. The death of children is not holding back population growth. It is one of the reasons poor people still have many children.” People have less children when they do not need to worry about whether or not those children will survive to adulthood.

Medical advancement continues at an astonishing pace.

Life expectancy is rising everywhere. People around the world are living longer and healthier lives, thanks in part to advances in medicine as well as increased access to nutrition and education. From vaccines that have eradicated deadly diseases like smallpox and polio to new treatments for chronic conditions, the progress in medicine is astounding.

For example, new medical technology allows us to identify cancer and other diseases earlier, leading to better treatment outcomes. Targeted therapies are becoming more widely available, less invasive, and more effective than traditional treatments like chemotherapy. Midstage trials are providing renewed hope for the development of vaccines against various cancers.

Genetics represent another marvel of medical advancement. Knowledge about the genetic basis of diseases helps improve diagnoses and treatments. Researchers are making significant progress in developing gene therapies that can cure sickle cell disease, HIV/AIDS, and other debilitating diseases. Genetic testing is now available for certain inherited conditions, like Huntington’s disease, which can help people make more informed decisions about their health and their future.

We are also making progress towards treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (remember the ice bucket challenge in 2015?) and Alzheimer’s disease. The development of robotics has transformed surgical procedures, resulting in faster recovery times and fewer complications. Telemedicine makes healthcare more accessible and convenient. Wearable tech like smartwatches and fitness trackers can monitor vital signs and alert patients and their physicians to potential health issues.

Mental health care is advancing too!

Technology is helping mental health treatment as well. Our clinic and many others offer secure telehealth appointments, so that remote clients can get the same treatment as everyone else. We utilize cutting-edge measurement-based care platforms such as Greenspace to monitor mental health outcomes and help clients gain insight into treatment progress. Apps like How We Feel and Calm help clients develop emotional intelligence and mindfulness skills in an easy, approachable way. Neurofeedback is another relatively recent technology that provides an excellent alternative (or complement) to traditional talk therapy.

There are many more examples of medical innovation, and it may take time for some of these gains to become sufficiently accessible. But every day we are making great steps towards a healthier world.

There’s still time for the environment.

There’s no denying the reality that ecological sustainability and preservation are serious concerns. It seems likely we will overshoot 2.5°C of global warming, leading to severe weather events, expansion of deserts, food insecurity, animal species extinction, and economic harm. However, we can take solace in the fact that many initiatives are working, and progress is being made.

Many countries have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions while increasing their GDP. The world is making great strides towards clean and sustainable energy. Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro are becoming more accessible and affordable. Even though nuclear energy has suffered tragic accidents, it remains one of the safest and cleanest forms of energy when compared to death rates from air pollution created by fossil fuels. Fourth-generation nuclear reactors currently being developed will be even smaller, safer, and more efficient with far less nuclear waste produced.  Scientists are making important discoveries towards fusion power, which has the potential to radically transform the world’s energy usage.

Another real concern is deforestation, but let us remember the wise words of Mr. Rogers concerning catastrophes: look for the helpers. Organizations like Cool Earth, which I fundraised for in 2019 and continue to support, are doing excellent work in this field. And we have data to support progress: a 2018 study published in Nature (one of the top scientific journals) identified with confidence that global tree cover has increased 7.1% since 1982.

Less harm from natural disasters

Furthermore, improvements in infrastructure and emergency preparedness have significantly reduced annual deaths from natural disasters, which were 3.7 million in 1931 and only 13,008 in 2022. Although we cannot prevent events like earthquakes, we can prevent high losses of life. The numbers prove that our efforts are working.

Admittedly, the tasks ahead will not be easy. But there is strong evidence that human effort and adaptability will allow us to fight current environmental threats and build a more sustainable world.

The world is more peaceful than ever before.

Given the widespread destruction and devastation in the first half of the 20th century, it is notable that the world has not seen a major global conflict in the past 78 years. Even considering the recent Ukraine conflict, warfare today is less frequent, less lethal, and more localized. While nobody knows the future for certain, there are reasons to believe that this calm and stability will persist. The globalization of trade means that the citizens of other countries are worth more to a nation alive than dead. As quality of life improves, we have less reason to engage in the discomforts of violence and vengeance. Institutions such as the United Nations have been developed to foster diplomacy, and cooperation has become more productive than armed invasion.

Violent crime is trending downwards as well. And the number of terrorist attacks and deaths from terrorism around the globe has dropped markedly since the 1970s (contrary to the over-representation of terrorism in the media, it accounted for just 0.05% of global deaths in 2017).

Overall, a person born in the world today is far less likely to be a victim of violence than a person born at any prior time in human history. That’s a remarkable achievement!

Basic needs are becoming more affordable.

It may be hard to believe, but it’s true: basic needs such as food, water, healthcare, housing, and education are becoming more affordable around the world. We owe this development to government and non-profit initiatives to reduce basic costs to individuals and families, as well as advances in technology, transportation, agriculture, and the global economy (lower prices stemming from businesses competing on a global scale).

The International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency, reported in 2022 that the price of mobile-broadband services has dropped to just 1.5% of gross national income per capita. Almost two-thirds of the world population has access to the internet. This number continues to rise, along with ownership of mobile phones. With more accessibility and affordability, the world is also becoming increasingly connected. I believe that will be a very important part of furthering communication and cooperation to solve global challenges.

What Now? “Learned Optimism.”

I hope these examples have conveyed that there are many reasons to see hope in all our futures. Our natural negativity bias can lead to a sense of learned helplessness. I firmly believe in countering it by cultivating learned optimism. We are better equipped to take on problems when we have an accurate, factual view of the world. The overwhelming evidence shows that the future is looking positive!

Here’s another piece of good news: the myth-driven stigma around accessing mental health care is disappearing rapidly.

In my clinical work, I often draw upon dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), which teaches skills to strengthen emotional resilience and build a life worth living. These skills include radical acceptance (seeing situations as they are and focussing on what you can control rather than what you cannot) and checking the facts (developing a more accurate and realistic understanding of a situation rather than relying solely on assumptions and emotions).

Therapy can be useful in overcoming negativity and developing a more positive outlook on life. This is not simply turning a blind eye to suffering. Instead, it is about developing the skills to face challenges with a helpful and more effective outlook.

If you’re struggling with negative thoughts or feelings of helplessness, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Consider reaching out to our team of skilled clinicians to explore therapy options and start building a more helpful future.

Self Portraits As Self-Discovery

Self Portraits as Self-Discovery

All are welcome to participate in our weekly mini-tutorials at the beginning of each Open Studio Session for approximately 20 minutes. For those who want to work independently, the rest of our Ladner studio is at your disposal.

See Yourself In A New Way

Self-portraits as Self- Discovery: Creating your self-portrait is harder than it looks!  How do you see yourself? What do you stand for? What colours represent you? What words or statements? Create your self-portrait from mixed mediums: collage, self-drying clay, scratchboard, sketching, acrylic painting, or even alter a photocopied picture of your face.

self portraits as self-discovery

Social Health Benefits of Creativity

social health benefits of creativity

Create and Connect: The Social Health Benefits of Creativity!

Creative activity has a long history of being done in community with other people!

Artistic traditions around the world have master-artist-apprentice relationships, craftsman guilds, groups of artists and societies who work side by side swapping creative ideas, techniques, tools of the trade, and most notably social engagement and comradery. Just like Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh (along with Paul Cézanne, and Emily Bernard), Canada’s own Group of Seven, or even our own local Artists in the Village Society and South Delta Artists Guild, artists get together to discuss their opinions and share their art. The social health benefits of creativity are not a new concept, people have been experiencing it for years!

Doing something creative with others is not simply something we do for fun, it’s good for us too!

Those that create in the presence of others are:

  • More likely to have wider social networks
  • More likely to have a sense of purpose and belonging in a group
  • More likely to have a reduced sense of social isolation and marginalization

This is just the beginning of the social benefits of creativity! Let’s look at one of the groups that makes up a large part of South Delta, and is near and dear to our hearts: seniors.

The Importance of Creative arts for at Risk Populations: Seniors

Seniors have been classified as a high risk population for social isolation. Initiatives such as The Arts and Health Project: Healthy Aging Through The Arts recognize the role creative arts play in the health of seniors. Vancouver Coastal Health, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation along with other associations and local communities, collaborated on this project to encourage and develop creative arts programs for seniors to benefit their overall sense of wellbeing and belonging. Below is a link to a video giving you a taste of what the project is all about!

Introductory Video For the Arts and Health Project

Specifically for seniors, doing something creative enhances quality of life and provide the following benefits:

  • Less need for medications
  • Fewer visits to the doctor
  • Reduction in loneliness
  • Increase in daily activities
  • Better physical health
  • Better morale
  • Wider social network to draw from in times of need

The social health benefits of creativity are wide and far reaching, especially for seniors! See this great graphic on Creative Aging by Arts and Health Network Canada that explains this these points further. Not a senior? There’s great benefits for you too, read on!

Here are a few things that you can do right now to experience the social health benefits of creativity!

  1. Join a club, guild, society, or group based on your own creative interests (creative writing club, pottery guild, book club, artist’s group). It’s likely you’ll meet a wide range of people who have a passion for the same things you do and who can also teach you something new! Try social sites like Facebook or MeetUp to find a group based on your own creative interests and geographical area.
  2. If you’re not quite at the face-to-face meet and greet stage, join an online/virtual community based around your particular creative interest (a photography board, a scrapbooking site). This allows you to post pictures of your creations, get feedback, search for ideas on your next project, and ask questions about particular techniques. As long as you are contributing and participating in this virtual community the social health benefits are there.
  3. Incorporate creative play into your social life! Switch it up and skip the movies! What about playing some board games with your family and friends for some laugh-out loud-fun? Pictionary, Teletrations, and Cranium are great games that use words to spur on drawing or sculpting actions. Here is a list of a few other games that use storytelling and words that will really get your creative juices flowing and have your group howling with laughter!

Our Open Studio Sessions Promote Social Interaction

Social interaction is the foundation for the social health benefits of creativity. If you are not already aware, our Open Studio Sessions are quite different than your typical art class and here’s how:

  1. Our Open Studio Sessions are for all ages
    • So many artistic programs are segregated based on age, which makes it hard for many do to art together. Our program is open to anyone of any age!
    • This means that families who have children with different age-ranges can make art together, grandparents can make art alongside their grandchildren, and even friends or spouses can come for a night out or bring their parents for a special time together.
    • We are all about creating an environment where creativity is being shared cross-generationally.
    • We have a special rates for kids under 13, families, and seniors!
  2. Our Open Studio Sessions are open to anyone and inclusive of all abilities
    • We encourage people who have different physical, medical, mental, emotional, and developmental abilities to attend our sessions and work alongside each other. The social health benefits of creativity are especially important across ages and abilities.
    • Community programs are wonderful for accommodating their target population, but most can only offer programs based on age and diagnosis. This prevents people with different diagnoses and ages from spending time with each other in creative and social environments. Families, siblings and close friends may also have a limited opportunity to do something together.
    • We want to promote an environment of inclusion by giving people of all abilities a place to meet and mingle with others who are both similar and different from them.
    • We also want to give much needed respite support to caregivers by offering them a place to unwind and do something creative!
    • If you are on Income Assistance or Persons With Disability benefits, your sessions are half-price, and personal attendants are free!
  3. Our Open Studio Sessions are flexible
    • We have no expiry date on gift cards for Open Studio Sessions, and our sessions run every Monday evening and Wednesday during the day. Other art programs often have a set number of classes, rigid schedule, and fees where your payments expire.
    • We understand that because we are social beings, life gets busy and sometimes other things (mental health issues, chronic pain, travel, children) may get in the way of attending sessions regularly. This is why we have such a flexible program, and why our multi-session gift cards have no expiry date.
    • Being part of a community means creating activities around community needs and this is what we have tried to do.
  4. Our Open Studio Sessions cater to a variety of interests
    • We know that people all have different interests so we have stocked our art studio with a wide variety of art materials that you can choose from during your visit. You can socialized with your loved ones, or meet new people while working on something that is completely unique and of interest to you! You can even switch to something else whenever you want.
    • We offer gentle guidance and instruction during art sessions at the beginning of each class.
    • Here are a few of the things we have in our art studio: 
      • Acrylic paint (Kroma Paint from Granville Island), oil paint and tempera paint
      • Water-colour crayons, pencil crayons, pens, liquid and pallet paint
      • Scrapbooking paper, punches, and other accessories
      • Oil and chalk pastels
      • Beads and jewellery making accessories
      • Huge assortment of drawing implements pens, pencils, ink pens, markers, crayons, pencil crayons, geometry kits, shapes and templates
      • Adult Colouring books, how-to books on techniques, books on calligraphy and lettering, on contemporary and historical artists
      • Large assortment of still life objects and images for creative inspiration
      • Variety of paper, canvas board, cardboard suitable to use for pen, sketching, water-colour, tracing, pastel and charcoal. Bring your own canvas or purchase one for nominal fee
      • Scratch board
      • Lino-cut and soft-cut printmaking
      • Wood-burning tools. Bring your own wooden object or select from ones from our collection for a nominal fee
      • Air-drying clay
      • Magic sand and white-sand
      • Assortment of kid-friendly craft materials for collage
      • More creative arts activities are available — if what you are interested in is not on our list, just ask!
  5. Special Interest Classes
    • We have started to develop programing geared towards the interests and tastes of our community.
    • Our Be Inspired Spring Break Camp is providing an opportunity for kids to get involved with art over Spring Break!
    • We currently have a Friday Night Knitting Club that meets once a month! It is for all ages, genders, and stages (beginners to advanced). Basic instruction is offered and shared by those who attend. Entrance is by donation and all proceeds go toward our Step Forward Program. Read about the event here.
    • We want to listen to you! If you have a programming idea from the community and want to share it with us, get it touch.
    • We have a few programs in the works, so check back with us and wait and see what we have coming up!

We look forward to having you in the studio to experience the social health benefits of creativity for yourself!

social health benefits of creativity
social health benefits of creativity
social health benefits of creativity
social health benefits of creativity

Creative Arts And Health

creative arts and health

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” 

— Pablo Picasso

Creative Arts and Health

We are starting a new blog series called the impact of creative arts and health. The posts in this series will talk about a range of health topics and give you some ideas on how to incorporate more creative activities into your daily life!  We are also going to highlight some of the resources we offer in our art studio.

What are the real benefits of the creative arts and health?

Listening to music, writing in a journal, painting or sketching, or being part of a social group such as a drama group or book club is an effective way to stimulate the brain, and anyone can do it. We know it’s good for us, but in what ways?

Mental Health Benefits

Participating in creative activity can reduce stress, strengthen the immune system and protect against depression and anxiety. Doing something creative gives your brain a break from usual stresses and thoughts. It can improve self-confidence, self-esteem and positive identity. People who create art are more likely to practice self-reflection, self-care, and are more likely to be open to positive perceptions of their own health and their goals about their own health.

Social Health Benefits

People who engage in creative activities are more likely to have wider social networks, have a sense of belonging and purpose, engage in volunteering and are less likely to feel isolate and marginalized. Art provides an increased opportunity for multi-generational interactions and reduces discrimination between ages. All of this combines to provide a greater chance at a satisfying quality of life!

Brain Health

Challenging ourselves creatively can improve our memory, problem solving, maintain neuro-spactial functions as we age, and improve our ability to recall information and recognize and be aware of the world around us. Art gives our brains a workout!

Path to Healing

Creative engagement can provide an outlet for healing for those who have suffered abuse or trauma, and provides an avenue that may help us cope with a transitional event or stressful change in life. Artistic activities can be used as ways to explore emotions or a path to healing and can even be used to express ideas and solutions to larger social issues (addiction, bullying or domestic violence as an example).

Chronic Pain

Doing something creative can help us manage persistent pain and other chronic illnesses. It can be used as a distraction tool to keep the focus off the pain or illness and can aid in calming the mind and body.

Practical Strategies for Using Art To Improve Health At Home

Here are three quick exercises you can do at home to relax, de-stress, and get those creative juices flowing:

  1. Get your doodle on! Doodling is a great way to loosen up the mind and start to relax the body. Take a break and let your hand start moving and your imagination flow. Experiment with different lines, shapes, textures, swirls, and before you know it, you will have covered a whole page! Begin with a sheet of plain paper and start with a dot or line in the middle, the next step is up to you!
  2. Play dough is not just for kids! Pick some up from the store, use your own recipe, ask a friend or search online. Squash, stretch, and roll your stress away. Add essential oils for an extra boost of therapeutic benefit! Great to do with kids or on your own!
  3. Kinetic Sand or fine-grain sand!  If you haven’t yet tried any of these, they’re awesome! Kinetic Sand is a great sensory product that moves and melts in your hand is relaxing to play with. Fine grain sand also has Zen-like properties. Whether you choose to go to the beach or write your name in a sand tray using a rake or your finger, the act of moving sand in different directions and making different patterns is another great way to release tension.

Creative Arts and Health at the Alongside You Open Studio Sessions

Join us for coffee and tea in our Open Studio Sessions to unwind

We have a huge selection of gel pens, pencil crayons, markers, and more for all your doodling needs! We stock play dough for those of all ages, and have both kinetic and fine-grain sand if you are curious and want to give them both a try!

  1. Get your Zentangle on. Zentangle is a drawing activity invented by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, designed to make drawing meditative and accessible to all. Patterns and shapes are drawn inside a 3.5″ square piece of paper. It’s very mesmerizing and there is no erasing allowed! We have Zendoodle Kits, pre-cut papers ready for use, a wide variety of ink pens, Zendoodle books full of pattern ideas, and books on how to incorporate colour into your designs.
  2. Make prayer bead projects (necklaces and bracelets).  Many different groups of people, cultures and faiths have used beads in a variety of ways for reflection and contemplation. We have a variety of beads, charms, string, hemp, and jewellery-making tools and supplies at your disposal. Try something new and add it to your day as a reminder to take a moment yourself to breathe!
  3. Take up Knitting! We have a wide variety of knitting needles and yarn at your disposal! We even have a monthly Friday Night Knitting Club if that is of interest to you! The repetitive nature of activities such as knitting helps to quiet the nervous system, releasing dopamine, a natural anti-depressant!

Resources On The Impact of Creative Arts and Health

For a more detailed study on the benefits of Creative Arts and Health, check out the following resources! We hope they’re helpful for you and if you have questions we’re more than happy to sit down over a cup of coffee or tea and chat about it with you!

The Benefits of Crafting on Mental Health

CNN Article and Video Segment

Health and Art: An Overview

The art of being healthy: a qualitative study to develop a thematic framework for understanding the relationship between health and the arts. Davies, C. R., Knuiman, M., Wright, P., & Rosenberg, M. (2014). BMJ Open, 4(4), e004790–e004790.  Guided by the biopsychosocial model of health and theories of social epidemiology, the aim of this study was to develop a framework pertaining to the relationship between arts engagement and population health that included outcomes, confounders and effect modifiers.

Types of Creative Arts and Health

The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–63.This review explores the relationship between engagement with the creative arts and health outcomes, specifically the health effects of music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing. 


creative arts and health
creative arts and health
creative arts and health
creative arts and health
creative arts and health