Changing good intentions into action

Have you ever wanted to be a little kinder, a little more thoughtful or feel like you were a little more useful? You’ve probably had times when you’ve wished people had been more like that towards you! We often have good intentions but it’s not always easy to follow through and make these a reality.

Evie Rosset, a talented psychologist, lecturer and entrepreneur, has kindly agreed to share her expertise on social well-being with us, along with some tips to turn good intentions into action.

Q: Tell us a little about your background in psychology.

A bit of a mix – cognitive science, and developmental psychology, and social cognition, and finally positive psychology.

When I was in university, I became interested in cognitive science after reading Steven Pinker’s book The Language Instinct. I got my first taste of research working in Steve’s lab at MIT, and after graduating moved to Paris and worked with newborns in another lab focused on cognitive science and psycholinguistics. Both were incredibly rich experiences, examining the building blocks of human cognition. I later did my PhD studying social cognition at Boston University, looking at how we understand and explain other people’s behaviour. The link with positive psychology may not be obvious but since the beginning, two themes have been at the core of my interest in psychology: 1) seeing the better side of human nature, and why we attribute good intentions to some people, but not to others; and 2) our need to feel useful and how good it feels when we are able to help someone. Both those ideas I think are characteristic of positive psychology insofar as they are concerned with the positive side of the human landscape.

Q: What is social well-being and why is it important?

Humans are inherently social. It’s hard to separate individual well-being from social well-being, and I think we can make a lot of progress when we focus on how each feeds the other. Individual well-being is sometimes seen as coming at the expense of social well-being or vice versa; this is indeed sometimes the case, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ll move further faster as a society when we understand that they are two sides of the same coin.

Q: What does MAAC stand for? What inspired you to create the Maac lab?

Maac stands for Massively Accessible Actions for Change. The idea behind Maac is that we all have a fundamental need to feel useful, and our society isn’t necessarily designed to harness all our good intentions. We want to help, we want to make a difference, but we don’t know where to start, or what to do exactly. Some people may volunteer, or be lucky enough to feel useful in their work or family-life, but for many people, they don’t feel the satisfaction of helping others and feeling useful as much as they could. So we need to make it easier for people to be useful. This is important for individual well-being, and for social well-being (www.maac-lab.com).

Q: What does MAAC lab offer? How can people get involved? 

We have created a new way of helping – small-scale personalized projects that are thought up by the person themselves using a “Maac Map” that we have developed to help them come up with the idea. We train professionals in the health and human services sector (psychologists, social workers… ) to use the program with the people they are working with, whether it is the elderly in a care home, patients with addiction or mental health issues, people who are unemployed or in prison. These people often find themselves on the receiving end of the helping equation, and they have told us that it is extremely gratifying to be able to do something for someone else, in their own way. For instance, a single mother created a Maac to raise awareness about domestic violence by writing a song to be sung with her choir. Another young man suffering from addiction decided to give drum lessons to kids in his inner-city neighborhood.

We are beginning to develop Maac at Work and Maac at School to put in similar programs in the workplace and with young people.

How can people get involved? The easiest and most direct way is to be trained to implement Maac in their specific setting. We are open to other creative ways of getting involved as well – we are a small team and so if someone wants to volunteer their skills in communication, or marketing, or social media, we’re open!

Q: Three key ways we can promote social well-being in our day to day lives are…

I’ve tried to think of a few very practical ways – little things that can be implemented easily into one’s day.

  • Once a day, give someone the benefit of the doubt. See their intentions as good.
  • Time. Give yourself an extra couple minutes when going somewhere. If you feel like you have time, chances are you’ll be more likely to notice someone who needs help, or smile at someone, or not feel stressed when the person in front of you is being slow – all of this makes a difference in terms of strengthening the social fabric of our lives.
  • Depending on where you live, you can give yourself a daily challenge to help one person each day. This makes it so you’re on the look-out – it can be someone who looks a bit lost, someone who is fumbling with their keys and the door, someone in a shop who can’t reach something. The idea is to nudge ourselves just over the line to help. If everyone helped in little ways just 5% more each day, it would make a big difference, again, in terms of both individual well-being and social well-being.

A huge thank you to Evie for taking the time to share her expertise! If you’re interested in training to implement Maac or have relevant skills to volunteer the team, please visit www.maac-lab.com for contact details.

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