Happiness and mental well-being have been top of mind at the Aging and Disability Resource Center since 2012.

This was the year that the agency launched Lighten UP!, an eight-week class to help people improve their outlook on life. It is offered three times a year — twice at the Kenosha County Job Center, 8600 Sheridan Road, and once at the Westosha Senior Community Center, 19200 93rd Street, Bristol.

“Lighten UP! is based on the premise that positive experience can broaden our horizons,” said Renee Foy, coordinator for health and wellness programs at the ARDC.

The first class was held in Kenosha County in 2012 as part of a pilot study. The program originated with Chaira Ruini, a professor at the University of Bologna, Italy, collaborating with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Before the program was debuted in Kenosha, Foy shaped the curriculum to reflect a more American perspective.

The idea, said Foy in a recent interview, is that negative bias — little and big incidents in our lives that predispose us to being negative — can color the way we react to things.

After identifying things that get in the way of being positive, class sessions help people find their way back to having a positive outlook on life by managing those things more constructively.

Foy compares the process to holding a cup. It’s not hard to hold for a short time, but is for hours on end. “This class isn’t about not ever picking up the cup (or feeling negative), but putting it down once in a while.”

“Lighten UP! is about lightening the load of negativity,” she said. “Negative things happen, but you don’t need to swim around in it; you can give yourself a break from it.”

Using “action plans” and homework assignments, she guides groups of 10 to 12 to achieve small steps — “little pats on the back that motivate people to go on.”

Foy estimates that in the past seven years some 500 area residents may have taken Lighten UP!.

Some participants enjoy the class so much they repeat it; others send Foy thank-you notes expressing gratitude.

“Many past participants have been widowers who have been floored by the new world view.”

“I have had more impact from this class than from many others I have run. It’s like people go from zero to 100 in eight weeks.”

Bonds are forged between participants, too, Foy said.

One group from the 2012 class still gets together on their own.

“This is because they’ve shared the experience and the language of the class.”

Although the curriculum was written to focus on older adults, it’s open to all ages now, Foy said.

Foy believes that Lighten UP! can have a positive impact throughout the community. “If you embrace it, others are more likely to react with compassion, too,” Foy said.

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