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Friday, August 6, 2021

Gratitude and art making to increase community wellbeing

RUPA PARTHASARATHY on using the science of gratitude and collaborative art making to help foster community wellbeing.

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

We sat in a circle, taking turns to speak. We each recounted a small aspect of our lives we were grateful for. As we spoke, we accepted the end of a ball of string, and then after, passed it on to another person. As the yarn started unravelling to float in the air, so did the rise in excitement and the collective energy.

When my friends Eshwin Prasad and Niles Kumar approached me to support their Biggest Morning Tea as a fundraiser for Cancer Council, I knew how to help: organise a gratitude circle.

As a practising counsellor/art therapist, I am more than aware that gratitude is a well-researched mental wellness strategy. Studies on individuals who practise gratitude consistently have reported multiple benefits: an improved sense of physical health, a reduction in pain symptoms, a boost of psychological and emotional wellbeing, an increased sense of belonging and connectedness, and enhanced understanding of fulfilment and happiness (Brown & Wong, 2017).

Equally, making art as a community brings multiple benefits too. It fosters collaboration, helps forge inclusiveness and mutual respect, improves emotional wellbeing and expands social circles (VicHealth, 2014).

mindkshetra gratitude circle

Eshwin was acquainted with my mission to proactively nurture the mental wellness of life stories using creativity. She said to me before the event, “I want a fun, engaging, inspiring activity to help bring the community together while spreading the awareness on the importance of nurturing one’s inner wellness. And if they can get to create collaborative art while doing that, even better.”

As I walked into the event, I saw a room filled with smiling faces, loud chatter, people from varying ages and background, their collective energy enough to fuel an entire village for a year.

This was no ordinary fundraiser. This was a celebration, similar to a wedding, the kind I’m used to back home.

I didn’t feel like I was addressing a group of strangers; from the minute I started talking, the people gathered showed support, smiling and nodding in agreement. Then I invited them to experience the weaving of a gratitude circle. The aim of the exercise, in addition to facilitating a discussion on practising gratitude, was also to create live fibre art, symbolising the interconnectedness, community spirit, and communal wellbeing which we experience during collaborative art making.

Becoming engrossed in our activity circle with our words and our thread, the lifting of spirits was immediately palpable, as was the sheer joy of it all.

mindkshetra gratitude circle

Whenever there was a threat to the string getting tangled, a someone from a distant corner would step in, as if on cue, to save it from untangling and set it back on its path. For me, this symbolised the support and empathy one can experience when you let someone else bear witness to your life story. As the design came alive, so did the sense of gratefulness, sense of belonging, and the unmistakable camaraderie of being part of a wider community.

As each of us held on to our end of the yarn, collectively acknowledging gratitude, we became privy to an overwhelming sense of togetherness and interconnectedness.

Our weaved pattern: a live art, unique, transient, yet very real. A clear visual reminder of the sense of being active members of this circle called society, which we have the power to change.

Eshwin and Niles’ Biggest Morning Tea event was held at Sri Ram Krishna Temple, 275 Fifteenth Ave, Austral NSW.

READ ALSO: Indian art on the streets of Dandenong


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