FARGO — Members from 24 Fargo-Moorhead area organizations got together Tuesday, Jan. 15, to explore a critical question: Can simple practices inoculate people against mental health problems while enhancing happiness in our workaday world?

Science says the answer to that question is yes, said Jill Nelson, an organizer of The People Project, a community-based effort aimed at bringing the benefits of positive habits and thinking into the workplace.

Nelson, who's also a professor with North Dakota State University's College of Human Development and Education, outlined many of those practices Tuesday, along with Rory Beil, director of health promotion at Clay County Public Health, who said that by incorporating simple habits into their daily lives people can create reserves of well-being they can draw upon when times get tough.

Nelson said those practices include taking time at the end of each day to be grateful for good things and to actively connect with others in sincere, one-on-one ways.

"A connected life is an important part of well-being," she said, adding that studies show the old adages to be true: Showing kindness and service to others benefits the giver more than the person who receives it.

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"Powerful stuff," said Nelson, who encouraged audience members to bring what they learned back to their places of work.

She said doing so can improve the well-being of not only their co-workers, but their own mental health as well.

A critical ingredient of emotional growth, she said, involves embracing vulnerability, not in the sense of being weak, but in understanding that growth rarely happens without discomfort or risk.

"We cannot engineer discomfort out of vulnerability," Nelson said. "If you're never willing to be uncomfortable, you'll never get more of what you want out of life."

With some audience members, Nelson was preaching to the choir.

Shelly Thompson, human resources director for CCRI, said her agency, which helps people with disabilities, has long been focused on things like mental health and emotional well-being.

Still, she said, it never hurts to refocus sometimes on things you think you already know.

Brian Saunders and Katy Ulrich, who work at Microsoft, agreed.

They said connecting with other people is highly valued at Microsoft, as is the mindset that when pursuing success, people shouldn't be afraid to fail.

Nelson said showing kindness to others, as well as to oneself, results in good chemicals being released in the body, leading to greater satisfaction in life and, in some cases, a longer and healthier life, too.

"The brain doesn't know the difference between giving kindness and receiving kindness," she said.

Beil said participants in The People Project are being asked to employ positive practices at work over the course of about 10 months. He said after the year is up an organizer will meet with groups to review how things went.