Catalyst Conference Introduction 2021: How can we, as a society, help create dignified and purposeful lives for the lives of Misericordia’s residents through the lens of the well-being theory and positive psychology?


Catalyst Conference 2021

Hello, and welcome to my 2021 GOA Catalyst Conference project for the Positive Psychology Course!

This project will focus on the well-being theory impacts individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Please enjoy my project!


In this project, I hope to demonstrate insightful knowledge and resources about how the positive psychology concept of well-being impacts the daily lives of residents, volunteers, and employees of Misericordia. Misericordia is a 31-acre campus and residency for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities located on the North Side of Chicago. Its mission is to provide a dignified, purposeful life for its approximately 600 residents, who are just a portion of the uniquely vulnerable community of intellectually or developmentally disabled people in the world.


The ultimate goal of positive psychology – and the philosophy that undergirds it – is to live a purposeful life worth living. Misericordia’s goal is almost the exact same, and, after witnessing the atmosphere of overall well-being having volunteered there many times, they were an obvious choice for the assigned task of choosing a group that faces struggle. Considering Misericordia’s residents are part of the most vulnerable and largely under-represented community, I thought the “life worth living” part of the equation is especially important because residents at Misericordia are truly part of a society that collectively values their individual contributions and self-worth. 


The goal of this project is to examine, on a micro and macro level, how well-being impacts both the philosophy of Misericordia and the daily lives of its residences, volunteers, and community members. After taking in this project, I hope to instill a sense of gratitude in you – the viewer – for all of the abilities, gifts, and talents that you have, and I similarly desire for you to reflect on what you can do to help this vulnerable group of individuals’ wellbeing after learning about their experiences. The ultimate issue at hand is a question: How can we, as a society, help create dignified and purposeful lives for the lives of Misericordia’s residents through the lens of the well-being theory and positive psychology?

According to their website, “the Mission of Misericordia is to provide a continuum of care and support for children and adults of all faiths and cultures who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.” After hearing about Misericordia from text descriptions, many people believe it is a small community of charitable people who want to make the world a better place. That is absolutely true, and many people are surprised to realize that Misericordia is not just a small home, but rather a 31-acre campus with dozens of buildings and first-class care facilities for its residences. Take a look at the outline of its map in Google Maps below to see the true scale:

Google Maps

Misericordia Chicago Map

Misericordia Chicago Map

Who else has already grappled with the issue?

Misericordia is one of many places that has been grappling with the issue of dignity and well-being for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are also numerous similar campuses across the country, and hundreds of doctors, scientists, and researchers who dedicate their careers to finding better solutions to ensure the well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Still, as a society, there is much more to be done in fighting for the recognition of dignity and quality of well-being that all humans, regardless of race, gender, ability, or other immutable characteristic, deserve. 

Government grants to places like Misericordia do help, but much of the systemic and macro-level change actually comes from a large number of individual donations and volunteer work. Please find below a graphic that details what has been done, and what needs more work on a systemic and societal level. We can use this graphic to inform our action to help.

What can we do “for now”?

Working to create dignified and purposeful lives for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities is a process that requires lots of time and thought. There are a multitude of ways that people can help this community. Here is a three-step program that I have created that is composed of strategies and methods of helping “for now” in the world. I call it the 3 E’s of well-being for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

As it relates to well-being, one of the most compelling paragraphs in the aforementioned Frontline health study was: 

This is not about a medical model versus a social model of service. Put simply, people whose health and well-being are not addressed properly lose out on social and quality-of-life opportunities and live a shorter life. And people who do not have adequate social and quality of life opportunities have a poorer quality of health and well-being with similar consequences. Providing a model of support that focuses on health, well-being and social needs will have far better outcomes for the person. Not properly supporting people with regard to health and well-being discriminates and increases inequalities already faced.


Additional Synthesis and Interview

Individuals can engage with people and places across the world to help fight any neglect of this vulnerable group. An additional component to the “education” step of The Three E’s may also be to look into how the well-being theory, as described by Dr. Martin Seligman, plays into those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially compared to other positive psychology concepts like authentic happiness. 

The well-being theory asserts that all life does not need to be happy, blissful, and wonderful in order for it to have purpose. It was an intellectual refinement of Seligman’s original theory. He essentially now states that meaning and depth come from a variety of experiences, not just happy ones. If that were the case, everything would be superficial and there would be no meaning to life because everything is expected and the same. In other words, the lows of life make the highs better, and the highs are much more appreciated when you know the lows are the alternatives. What is hard to endure is sweet to recall. 

This concept applies specifically to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities because tasks that their non-disabled peers may consider simple usually require a lot more effort for them. Their day and life may take many twists and turns, but they have to place a tremendous amount of trust in the people around them in order to be happy. 

Misericordia Chicago

Day Maker’s Hairsalon

Image Credit: WLS-TV Chicago

In my interview with Colleen Drumm, a member of the Woman’s Board of Misericordia and co-founder of Misericordia’s “Daymaker’s Hair Salon,” she explained that “a large source of dignity in our society unfortunately comes from how we present ourselves and how people perceive our physical appearance; unfortunately, this may even come before a first impression.” For individuals of all struggling groups, Colleen explained, it can “be difficult to have access to places specifically dedicated to creating a sense of dignity through personal appearance.”

She also added that a hair salon at Misericordia has practical benefits beyond well-being that many people don’t consider: “It is very costly and time-consuming to transport certain residents with physical disabilities on and off campus, and having an on-site salon and barber shop not only creates dignity and well-being for our residents, but also has a practical element. When we all have access to these sorts of services, regardless of income, ability, race, or any other factor, people’s days are just better. That’s what really inspired me to start this at the beginning.”


For the feedback part of this project, I would like participants to think about the following questions based on what they have learned. If you have time, I would greatly appreciate it if you could fill out the Google Form linked below as well. 

1. What will you do (or have you done) to educate yourself about the needs of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities?
2. What will you do (or have you done) to encourage others to be part of the solution in creating a fairer, better, and more dignified life for those with intellectual/developmental disabilities through the lens of the well-being theory?
3. What will you do (or have you done) to engage with the community in hopes of providing better care to those with intellectual/developmental disabilities?
4. Do you know of anyone with an intellectual or developmental disability? 
5. Would you like to share anything else about your experience or my project that can help us create a more fair society for those with intellectual disabilities through the lens of well-being?

Resources Consulted and Cited

Thank you, and I hope you enjoyed my project!


1 comment

  1. I learned so much about this community and it made me want to learn about others in the country. I am wondering if there has been any peer-reviewed research to support the conclusions that you’re drawing for the community. I imagine that type of study could help bring further funding to such communities if it existed and concretize the outcomes alluded to above.

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