Two-eyed seeing for well-being education

Well-being is being talked about a lot in schools and in education scholarship. Many schools boast prioritizing well-being and seem to base their programs on something like Carney’s model: Lifestyle choices, strength-based education, and meaning-making.

In discussing Martin Seligman’s (2011) and Patrick Carney’s (2015) models of well-being, many sustainability educators noticed that there was something crucial missing from both: Nature and our connection with it.

Two-eyed seeing, or seeing issues or topics through “western” eyes as well as through traditional or First Nations eyes, allows us to bring Nature into the well-being equation. This way of seeing does not pit traditional knowledge against “new” schools of thought; rather, it allows us to use both to paint a more complete picture.

In reading Nicole Bell’s chapter in Deer & Falkenberg’s Indigenous Perspectives on Education for Well-Being in Canada (2016), it was clear to me how western, positive psychology theories of well-being and Indigenous perspectives on the same come together to form a much more complete and holistic model of well-being that includes our connection and inter-connection with Nature.

Mino-Bimaadiziwin means “living life in a good way” in the Anishinaabe language. Bell (2016) describes how “the teachings of mino-bimaadiziwin and the life stages which inform that life path provide insight into achieving balanced and healthy living”.  Interconnectedness is a key element of well-being in the Anishinaabe culture. Like Seligman, Bell asserts that, according to Anishinaabe tradition, “living a good life communicates that one’s spirit and relationships must exist in good healthy ways”. In fact, there are many similarities between Seligman’s and Carney’s models and the teachings of mino-bimaadiziwin. However, Bell goes on to describe how these relationships include that which we maintain with the Earth. 

“(the first being)…teaches the Anishinaabe people to have the utmost respect for the Earth, as they depend on her for their survival.” (Bell, p. 8) This is exactly what I’ve been reading from my colleagues’ recent reflections on modern-day well-being models — that we must also include our relationship with the Natural world in well-being education, since we cannot “be well” while disrespecting that which gives us life.

Recognizing our interconnectedness is another aspect of Anishinaabe teaching that speaks so strongly to a sustainable perspective on well-being. “Anishinabe (way of life) is an understanding that everything is alive and that everything is related….As a people, we are of the land, the four winds, the directions, the seasons, and the great circle of life”. (Bell, p. 9).

Mino-Bimaadiziwin also connects with Carney’s well-being model in that it is strength-based. It asks us to “recognize your gifts, and…that you have answers” (Bell, p. 9). However, she reminds us that, in keeping with the spirit of interconnectedness and an ecological worldview, we are to strive for collective achievement rather than individual goals. Again, here, we can see how well the models work when we use two-eyed seeing.

Bell goes on to explore life-stages and Anishinaabe education. Again, here, are many links to Carney’s model, in that each life-stage has strengths and goals associated with it and that Anishinaabe education is a “holistic education (which is) the positive development of the whole child in relation to his/her world…(and) fostered in a positive way through the school, home, and community” (Bell, p.13).

The notion of holistic education brings together the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels of learning. This teaches interconnectedness: among all aspects of a person as well as between the person and the rest of the human and more-than-human world. This ecological worldview is then extended to bring us to the idea of what some refer to as “place-based learning”:  “Anishinaabe knowledge…has to be ecological, where the knowledge is contained within the land of the geographic location of the nation” (Bell, p 17). She goes on to say that knowledge comes from its people and that “each nation culturally determines for itself how it knows what it knows”.  This is place-based education, seen through Anishinaabe eyes.

To read this article with two eyes was affirming to me. The knowledge we need to build a sustainable vision of well-being is out there, and has been for a long time.


Bell, Nicole. (2016) Mino-Bimaadiziwin: Education for the good life. In F. Deer & T. Falkenberg (Eds). (2016). Indigenous Perspectives on Education for Well-Being in Canada. (pp. 7-20). Winnipeg, MB: ESWB Press.

Carney, P. (2015) Well-Aware: Developing resilient, active, and flourishing students. Don Mills (Canada): Pearson.

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. Toronto: Free Press


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