I’ve always been the forever optimist. And while I am fully aware that my “sunshine and rainbows” approach to life is not always shared by those around me (and is probably annoying or overwhelming depending on where someone’s headspace is), happiness and gratitude have certainly helped me cope with some of the most dire situations I have faced in life. I treasure this trait, especially these days when our society is facing incredible challenges with mental health, substance use, violence, politics, technology, and equity. On a daily basis, I hear about how people are burnt out, depressed, and anxious, both personally and professionally. Locally, resources and time have always been limited due to the rural nature of our community and the many hats that we all wear. However, it does feel as though there is a recent heaviness in the air which is contributing to significant staffing turnover, distress, and dissatisfaction which is concerning. People ask me all the time what I think the next public health crisis might be, and I can’t help but respond that this general weight we are all carrying needs to be addressed in a number of ways. One of the ways that I believe we can course correct as a society is to embrace happiness, gratitude, hope, and good old fashioned social and personal connection with each other.

It is because of this alarming trend we have observed in our own county that Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) is launching an initiative currently called The Happiness Project. In the upcoming days, your friends at CCPH will be reaching out to county and municipality departments and agencies to spread a little happiness and appreciation for all of their hard work, dedication, and commitment to making Chaffee County a place where we are proud to live and serve. We hope that you will join us! CCPH intends on bringing in subject-matter experts on how to achieve and maintain happiness, resilience, and endurance at work, home, and everywhere in between. By fostering a culture of kindness and happiness, our community is likely to heal quicker from recent crises and be more mentally and emotionally prepared for the future.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, research supports the idea that if we are happy, our health outcomes are more likely to be better. Studies suggest that certain personal attributes—whether inborn or shaped by positive life circumstances—help some people avoid or healthfully manage diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and depression. Emotional vitality, optimism, supportive networks of family and friends, and having personal self-regulation can all contribute to overall well-being. This is true for children and adults. A question that this research asks is, “Seventy to 80 percent of heart attacks in this country occur not because of genetics nor through some mysterious causative factors. It’s through lifestyle choices people make: diet, smoking, exercise. Why are people choosing to do these things? Does mood come into play?”

We at CCPH agree that there must be a tie between emotional well-being and overall health. While we don’t want to undermine the fact that people are going through some tough times and emotions are real and valid, spreading happiness seems like a win for all.