Happy proves healthy in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Happy proves healthy in Aspen

Jane Wells
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Lynn Goldsmith/Special to The Aspen Times"The important things in life are intangible," Deepak Chopra said at an Aspen Institute health forum.

ASPEN – We live in a world of multiple terrifying health challenges: AIDS, swine flu, heart disease, obesity, maternal mortality, cancer, post-traumatic stress and lack of insurance, to name a few.

Yet despite all this, The Aspen Institute TIME Health Forum had participants on Sunday consider “The Importance of Play and The Pursuit of Happiness.” Celebrity speakers and attendees – Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Patch Adams, Goldie Hawn and Elle Macpherson – made calls for a focus on joy, play, laughter and spontaneity as the vital keys to health.

To an audience of highly accomplished and educated experts in all medical and related fields, Chopra argued there is no correlation between academic performance and success in life, that the essence of creativity comes not from work but from play.

“Playfulness is the expression of your soul,” he said.

Adams blamed television and technology for killing the instinct to play. Hawn, a part-time Snowmass resident, hopes to bring joy to children and combat depression and aggression. None of this was a joking matter, although Chopra did remind the audience that the most trusted journalist in the country is comedian Jon Stewart.

Hawn, through her namesake foundation, has dedicated the last few years to trying to change the paradigm of education. The Hawn Foundation applies cutting-edge scientific research to create programs that support the social and emotional development of children.

Hawn’s foundation has created MindUP, a program for K-7 that provides an in-school curriculum. Practiced by more than 1,000 educators across the nation and Canada, the program helps kids learn to manage their emotions, reduce stress, build confidence and empathy, and sharpen concentration.

“Of course I’d like to see the program in every school district across the country, but it would give me great satisfaction to see it here in Aspen, as I raised my children here and they went to school here,” Hawn said.

She said she plans to meet with Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko to discuss the possibility.

“It’s a fun program; the kids who have been through it are 60 percent more optimistic, have lower aggression, are more empathetic and are more joyful in the classroom,” she said.

Hawn said the work of The Hawn Foundation is not just touchy-feely; it is based on scientific research on the brain and our ability to develop the part of the brain that controls social responsibility.

Hawn credits her years of raising children in the valley as helping her form her ideas for the foundation and MindUP.

“My kids came from a traditional, uniform-wearing, parochial school in Los Angeles to Aspen Community School, where they grew flowers and vegetables, went cross-country skiing on Fridays and learned self-motivation,” she said. “After half a year here they returned to Los Angeles and excelled academically.”

Hawn said she feels that affluent or academically pressured children are in some ways more at risk for depression and hopelessness because they don’t develop the same resilience and muscle as children who do not have everything handed to them.

“Yes, Aspen may be a town where there is a lot of play, but I would still like to give this community the gift of our program, because the three years my kids spent in this community gave them the best memories of their lives.”

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