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Faculty of Computing, Health and Science / Faculty of Business and Law - Graduation address

Professor Donna Cross

Sunday, 28 September 2008, 6.00pm


Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, colleagues, proud parents and friends, and above all graduates.

Thank you for the privilege of addressing you this evening.

In preparing for this address I did some research to decide what I should present, especially given I couldn't remember a single word that was said by the speaker in my position when I graduated. The advice I received was to have a great start, and an even better finish, and to bring these two parts together as quickly as possible.

Next phase of life

So tonight I would like to convince you in the brief time I have that as you move to the next phase in your life consider also investing in your health and other personal resources that will help you to deal with the good and the bad that you may experience. In a nutshell, I want to suggest how you can die happy and young as late in life as possible.

Piggy Bank

I wonder if anyone here has heard about the Piggy Bank Theory? For the business and commerce people in the audience this isn't the latest recommendation from the Reserve Bank to deal with the current economic crisis - it's a theory that suggests that in our lifetimes we have approximately 2.8 billion heart beats each. The question is how should we use them wisely to preserve them for as long as possible?

Exercise

Now some of you may be feeling a little concerned at this point if you exercise regularly, as you may be thinking that you are using yours up to fast - every time you're active - but as you would know your heart will beat much slowerat rest as a result of this regular exercise, so keep doing it.

Heart beats used

But what else do you do to reduce the heart beats you use and prolong your life?

Being healthy

Now many of you will probably recognise that having a good diet, physical activity; sound sleep; good marriage or other partnership, the company of good friends, rewarding work, sufficient money, fun times and religious or spiritual belief all enhance our wellbeing and that their absence diminishes it.

Belonging

However, the intimacy, belonging and support provided by close personal relationships seem to matter most and being alone exacts the highest price. In 2002 McGinnis from the US NIH argued that the death rate of socially isolated people is 2-5 times higher than those who are close to friends, family and community.

Alone

Sadly we are a society that is spending less time together. In fact Harvard Sociologist Robert Putman who wrote the book "Bowling Alone" believes that more people watch "Friends" than have friends. Maintaining your friendships and spending time with people you love is key to your health and wellbeing and preserving those heart beats.

In what parts of your life do you unnecessarily use up those precious heart beats, especially through negative emotions such as anger, sadness and anxiety, where you might "waste a good worry" - or catastrophise unnecessarily. As Henry Ford said "whether you think you can or you think you can't - you're right!"

Positive emotions

Having positive emotions, (such as gratitude, hope, positive interests) is key to your everyday happiness: being satisfied with our lives; fulfilling our potential and feeling that our lives are worthwhile and having meaning. Positive thinking and emotions is of course a pathway to coping with these events.

September 11

I would like to provide an example of this with an historical event that is sadly all too familiar. As you would all remember on September 11 2001 in NY City 100's of people were killed on board the 4 hijacked planes that crashed and, nearly 3000 people remained in the World Trade centre towers when they collapsed.

How you responded

Think for a moment about how you responded to the event and the days that followed and more importantly how you might respond to other negative events. Beyond the extraordinary physical and financial devastation and loss of human life, this attack generated considerable emotional turmoil among all who saw it. US polling after the event showed that 70% of people polled had cried about the tragedy and felt depressed, up to 60% said their sense of safety and security had been shaken by the attacks, 54% were worried they or someone in their family would become a victim of a terrorist attack.

Positive emotions helped

Amidst this anger, sadness and fear positive emotions seem inappropriate. Even so following September 11 people felt grateful to be alive, or to know their loved ones were safe, and many felt heightened love as an uncertain future shifted their priorities - several polls found that 60% reported that their personal relationships were strengthened following the attacks.

Coping September 11

Positive emotions appear to be among the active ingredients in helping us to cope and thrive despite adversity. They also have the added advantage of putting our body at ease - remember the piggy bank theory? Negative emotions do harmful things to your body like increase heart rates, and blood pressure. Barbara Fredrickson found that positive emotions appear to be a core active ingredient that buffered non-bereaved people against depression, following the Sept 11 attack. So your positive emotions act as breathers providing psychological respite, and help to replenish resources, depleted by stress. We can draw on our positive emotions throughout life to improve coping and resilience.

Resilience

This resilience is of course invaluable to us as it enables us all to bounce back from a negative experience and to be flexible to the ever changing demands of life. Resilient people have optimistic, and energetic approaches to life, they are curious and open to new experiences and have high levels of positive emotion. As a resilient person you will use humour, creativity, optimistic thinking as ways of coping. I am sure the graduates in this room wouldn't have achieved what they are here to collect tonight, if they did not have the ability to be resilient to cope with the many changes that have confronted them and will continue to do so. I hope that you all will be able to continue to draw on your friendships, positive thinking style and other positive emotions to use the least number of heart beats necessary to have long and successful lives.

So tonight, I congratulate all the graduates on your perseverance in completing this important stage in your life. I wish you prolonged happiness and remind you that the happiest people don't have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have. I hope you can make the best of everything you have.

Thank you.

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