This week I shared the exciting news on my Facebook wall that Britain had its first ever “happy School.” As a former teacher who left because the system was so frustrating, I would have loved to work in a classroom where we could play the gratitude game and sing happy self-songs.
Alas those teaching days are behind me and they are closing down schools in the Rhondda anyway so I doubt we will be blessed with such a place here. It did get lots of people discussing the issue of happiness though and I heard on more than one occasion people saying that happiness can’t be taught.
Well let me set that record straight; yes it can!
Our brains are incredible organs and just like any computer they can be rewired. Leading neurophysiologists like Rick Hanson and physiologists like Robert Emmons agree that we can actually train ourselves to be happy.
This is music to my ears as it’s exactly what the Contented Family Project is all about. I want to make sure my kids brains are wired up so whatever choices they make in life, whatever life throws at them they can find happiness.
The bigger question in my mind though is not if happiness can be taught but why it needs to be in the first place? Surveys have suggested that our children are among the unhappiest in the world .Why the hell are our kids unhappy?
My guess is as always it’s our fault; the parents. Not because we are neglecting our kids though, more that we are neglecting ourselves. Its common knowledge that kids learn more from their parents than anyone else so what example are we setting them?
Schools and teachers can have a big impact but nothing near as significant as those within their immediate family. With this in mind we MUST take more care of our own mental being.
If you, like me think this is too compelling to ignore and want to help yourself set the best most joyful example then here are my top 3 tips to re-train your brain
- Be grateful
Gratitude is a powerful emotion. By actively and purposely practicing gratitude we recognize that we already have positive things in our life. Too many of us are very quick to point out the bad. There are lots of different ways you can learn and teach your kids to be more grateful; keep a family gratitude journal, talk about the best part of the day at bedtime, wake up in the morning and talk about what you’re looking forward to over your cornflakes. However you choose to do it, the most important thing is that you open up the gratitude discussion. Make sure they know what the word means and tell them often what makes you feel grateful.
- When life feels good – embrace it for 10 seconds
We live such busy lives but for our brain to learn to be happier it has to experience happy moments. You will have many of these in your day to day experiences but they often pass by virtually unnoticed. A great example of this is how quickly we dismiss a compliment, probably feeling embarrassed, next time someone says something nice about you use it as an opportunity to rewire your head!
Hanson advocates the 10 second rule; he says that we need to hold onto positive feelings for at least 10 seconds because it takes that long for our brain to transfer the emotion from the short term to the long term memory.
A great way to do this with kids is take a pretend picture in our minds. We literally hold a fake camera and click. As we click we hold the feeling in our hearts and make a mental note to remember it. When I feel myself struggling with my emotions I consciously recall these photo moments, remembering what feeling good is like actually gives me back those positive vibes. Hanson would say that this is because in the process of taking the picture we held onto the happiness, filing it into our long term memory.
We even came up with a little rhyme to encourage us to do this.
Take a picture with your mind,
And when you’re feeling sad,
Look at it to remind yourself,
That life is not that bad.
Earlier today we were watching It’s a Wonderful Life and I was blubbing like a baby as Clarence got his wings, we both recognized it was one of those moments and took a mind picture. Later during a rather frustrating moment at the supermarket she repeated the rhyme to me. It was as if Clarence got his wings all over again, I nearly burst into tears in the cheese aisle.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t always work. During a tantrum she was having at tea time, I gleefully repeated the rhyme to her but she just scowled and stormed upstairs. That doesn’t, mean it’s not working but her brain is developing and she’s learning to deal with big emotions. It’s up to me to show her how.
- Have fun!
I have touched on it before in my previous post but I really think we can change our life by embracing fun and reframing how we see life. Hanson says that to learn to be happy the brain needs happy experiences. Being a grown up is hard, there are always a million jobs to do and bills to pay but we have to stop using these as excuses not to do the things we want to do. If you enjoy going to the gym, watching films, reading, writing, tantric sex whatever floats your boat; DO IT MORE! (Not necessarily in front of the kids though)!
So many times I hear people say they put their kids first and so have given up doing x, y or z but what if I told you that by doing the things that bring you joy you are making your kids joyful by osmosis. So stop making excuses and remember life is supposed to be fun!
So the conclusion is simple… let them teach happiness in school, only good can come from it, but for goodness sake;
Lets make joy top of the curriculum at home!
Image 1 sourced from http://www.clipartpanda.com/categories/kids-playing-summer-clipart
Image 2 sourced from http://harrydschneidermd.com/html/neuroscience.html
Image 4 sourced from http://fashions-cloud.com/pages/c/cute-camera-clip-art/