A few weeks ago many Parent Talk members braved the cold to attend “The Parent Talk Guide to Happier Kids”, the latest installment of the Parent Talk Lecture Series. Presenter Pam Garramone was fantastic; not only did she provide lots of amazing info, but she was extremely funny and made the evening super fun. In case you weren’t able to make it out that night (or if you were, but didn’t take detailed nerd-notes like I do), hopefully I can relay some of the ideas and resources Pam shared with us that night; however, I’m not nearly as funny as she is, so I recommend you attend one of her talks if the opportunity arises in the future.
There has been a good deal of research done to try to determine what it is that makes happy people happy – data has been collected and compared regarding where people live, what they do for work, how they spend their time, and pretty much every other possible determinant affecting how we feel. And it turns out that happiness may be far simpler to attain than many of us think. Based on this research, happiness is 50% genetic, 10% external, and 40% actions and thoughts.
So 40% of what determines whether or not we are happy is within our control, we just need to think positive thoughts – easy, right? Not quite. Our default when it comes to thinking is what is referred to as “negativity bias” – on average we have 70,000 thoughts a day, and 85% of these are negative. Add to this that our awareness of our surroundings is so influenced by what we are already thinking that we tend to see what we expect to see, what we are already thinking about, and miss the rest. Take this video awareness test to see what I’m talking about.
The good news is we can increase our happiness without having to move or change our jobs. Instead we can focus on finding things that make us feel good, pursuing activities that we enjoy, spending time with others, finding meaning in our actions, and accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves. And we can bring our kids along for the ride.
Cultivate a Growth Mindset
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Henry Ford
You’ve probably heard the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” – in a nutshell, fixed mindset is thinking that we are inherently good or bad at certain things, while a growth mindset believes that we can achieve whatever we want if we put the effort in. From the perspective of a fixed mindset, mistakes, failures and rejections are devastating and final, indicative of permanent weaknesses or inability. From the perspective of a growth mindset these same experiences, while still disappointing, do not define us, and can be learned from to further us on the path to success. We can help our kids develop a growth mindset by teaching them to enjoy the learning process, mistakes and all. How? Rather than praising our kids, we can praise what they are doing/have done. Example: instead of “You’re great at math!” try “Wow, I’m so impressed with how much you’ve been learning in math!” Instead of “You’re such a good dancer!” try “I love watching you dance!”. If kids feel they have to live up to an expectation of “being good at” something, they will be afraid to make mistakes. Here’s a short video about growth mindset: http://www.letitripple.org/films/science-of-character/
Identify Strengths and Use Them
When we use our strengths we feel good about ourselves and engage in less negative thinking. Different people have different strengths – this survey can help you determine what yours are, and there’s a test for kids too: www.viacharacter.org
How can we help our kids identify and enjoy their own strengths? Here’s an example: “I noticed that you [insert strength here] when you [insert behavior here]”
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.” Melody Beattie
When we consciously think about the things that are good in our lives we dominate our internal dialogue with positive thoughts, which can tip the thought scales and overcome our negativity bias. Make a regular gratitude practice part of your routine, and you will start noticing and appreciating all the good things going on around you.
Some ways to practice gratitude on your own, or with your kids:
Gratitude jar – keep a jar and a little bag of dried beans on the table, and at meals have each person share something she’s grateful for and put a bean in the jar. Watch the jar fill up.
Gratitude call – make a phone call to someone you are grateful to have in your life.
Gratitude journal – every day write down a few things you are grateful for. A morning ritual I’ve found effective is writing down 10 things I’m grateful for, 10 people I love who love me, and 10 personal goals.
Gratitude visit – write a letter to someone you are grateful to have in your life, find a time to meet with her, and read her the letter.
Gratitude message – every day text/message/email someone in your life thanking or praising them in some way.
What Went Well exercise – Write down or share 3 things that happened in the last 24 hours that made you feel good. I’ve started doing this one every night before bed with my daughter, and she loves it; a friend of mine does it on the car ride to school in the morning.
Connect With Other Human Beings
“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Jim Rohn
Social connection is the greatest predictor of a happy personal life and of academic success. The people we choose to spend time with have a profound effect on our general wellbeing. Make it a priority that your child spend some time with a friend (other than at school) every week.
Unsung Hero Video
We are hardwired to care about other human beings. Our brains even fire mirror neurons when we witness another human being suffering. There is no faster, more direct route to feeling good than helping or making someone else feel good, especially when the someone else is a stranger. Research suggests that helping others benefits our physical wellbeing as well. Find opportunities to volunteer in your community with your child. Parent Talk offers opportunities for family volunteering such as making overnight bags for Project Night Night, in which even very young children can participate.
Consider becoming a Parent Talk member to gain access to more great programming year-round.
And visit https://www.pamgarramone.com to invite Pam to come speak to your group and spread the joy of simply being happy!