The Happy Student Title: #88: Getting Happy
Great for All Ages, Parent Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student Podcast #88: Finding Happiness

Fireborn’s podcast, The Happy Student, is based on the assumption that we all want our kids to have a happy academic and social life and yet we’ve never specifically talked about happiness – what it is and how to get it. When we talk about “happy” often people think about those fleeting really joyful, blissful moments when people tend to think, “Wow. I’m really happy.” Those moments are fantastic and we definitely want our kids to have lots of those, but what we really mean at Fireborn is something much more lasting. Joy and pleasure are momentary feelings and we want our kids to have an overall feeling of well-being and satisfaction. It’s a generally positive experience of life where our kids feels like they’re flourishing, fulfilling their potential and thriving.

The Happy Student Title: #88: Getting Happy

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I was at this conference over the weekend and one of the speakers, Ransom Stephens, talked about how “Paradise is easier to find than it is to recognize.” And his point was that when we look back at certain times in our lives, we think, “Wow. That was a really great time.” But during that time, we may not have actually realized how great it was. It’s only looking back that we recognize that we were living in paradise. And that’s because even though we may have found paradise, we don’t recognize it because we get caught up in momentary setbacks and worrying about the future and we don’t take the time to be grateful for all the good that is happening right now.

Martin Seligman is one of the first leading researchers on happiness and positive psychology. And he wrote this book a while ago called Authentic Happiness. And in his book he talks about four levels of happiness:

  1. The pleasant life: A life that successfully pursues the positive emotions about the present, past, and future. (So a life based on finding pleasure and moments of joy. This is the more fleeting type of happiness. It’s a search for pleasurable moments.)
  2. The good life: Using your signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification. (So in this life, you do what you are good at and you find gratification from using those skills).
  3. The meaningful life: Using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are. (So using those “signature strengths” – the things you are specifically good at – to accomplish something meaningful that goes beyond yourself, beyond finding gratification just for yourself).
  4. The full life: Experiencing positive emotions about the past and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths and using those strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning. (So people living their full life notice when they are experiencing positive emotions, they are mindful and live in the present moment, they notice the things they are grateful for, they use their signature strengths – when we use our signature strengths that makes us happier, and they find meaning in their work – they have big ambitions, they learn and grow with life.) Authentic Happiness pages 262 & 263

David Meyers, who wrote another book on happiness called The Pursuit of Happiness, defines happiness or rather, well-being in his words, as a state of mind… it is an ongoing perception that this time of one’s life, or even life as a whole, is fulfilling, meaningful and pleasant. It is what some people experience as joy – not ephemeral euphoria, but a deep and abiding sense that, despite the day’s woes, all is, or will be, well. The Pursuit of Happiness pages 23 & 24

Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree explains, “the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.”

Researchers recommend the following:

  1. Express Gratitude. Humans have a natural tendency to focus on the negatives. It’s called the negativity bias. By focusing on what we are grateful for each day, we retrain our brains to focus on the positives, making us happier. So each night at dinner or before bed, ask your kids what they are grateful for. If they need help, tell them what you are grateful for first.
  2. Live in and really savor the present moment. This goes with expressing gratitude – it’s all about enjoying the good things in life and focusing on the positives. You can also savor the past. That’s good for you too. Meditation can really help with this.
  3. Strive: Have a passion, find your purpose, make goals, and be ambitious. We are happier when we find meaning in what we are doing – when we feel that we have purpose bigger than ourselves. So find something that you are passionate about because that will help you find that purpose. Then set an ambitious goal and work toward it. That’s all part of that thriving we talked about earlier.
  4. Do what you are good at. It just feels good to do what we are good at. When you are challenged just the right amount and have just the right amount of skill, that’s when you enter your “flow” state and that’s super good for your happiness levels. So encourage your kids to find ways to do what they are good at and to get better at those things.
  5. Nurture and enjoy close relationships. Connection is a basic human need so having strong relationships and social support is essential to happiness.
  6. Be Optimistic. Optimistic people are more resilient against depression and perform better at challenging tasks. To practice optimism, when bad things happen, remind yourself that they are temporary, like when you get a bad grade on a test, instead of saying, “I’m an idiot” say “I needed to study more. Next time I will.” Then, when good things happen, optimistic people view them as permanent, like when they do well on a test they say, “I studied really hard. I am a hard worker.” Or “I am really smart!”
  7. Practice Self-Acceptance. Self-acceptance is “to be on our own side – to be for ourselves” (Smith, 2006, p. 39). It’s to have self-compassion for ourselves.
  8. Understand your Personal Power. You have the ability to change your life. If something bad has happened, it’s up to you to decide what to do with that. You can let it get you down, or you can see that you have the opportunity to overcome any challenge. Your personal power is your ability to decide how you will respond to events that are outside of your control.
  9. Get your Sleep, Eat, and Exercise. Sleeping and eating are basic human needs. If those needs aren’t met, your body simply can’t think about other things. Like if you’re at a party and should be having a ton of fun, but you’re hungry, you are not having a ton of fun – you are HANGRY. You simply have to meet your basic needs. Exercise keeps your body healthy, which is also a basic need, but it also does this amazing thing where it literally makes you feel better after you’ve done 30 minutes of cardio, (or maybe even less if you’ve developed a habit).

So how do you get your kids to actually do these things?

  1. Do them yourself. Take care of yourself (mentally and physically), talk about what you are thankful for, meditate and live in the present moment. Be compassionate with yourself when you make a mistake.
  2. When you are doing these things, narrate your experience. When you messed up on a project at work, be optimistic and say, “Oh, I forgot to turn this project in at work on time. I was just so busy and was really tired. I will do better next time.” When you’re tired and need to engage in some self-care, say so. “I’m really tired. I am going to go to bed early tonight.”
  3. Talk to your kids about each of these things. Share stories of how you express gratitude and what you strive for. Ask them to tell you what they are grateful for. Talk to them about their friendships and give advice on how to be a better friend. Discuss the importance of meditation and invite them to join you in your meditation practice. Ask your kids what they are good at and what they want to practice getting better at. Maybe they want to get better at soccer. Get a soccer ball and practice together sometime.

Fireborn is running an end of the year fundraising campaign. If you’ve been enjoying what you hear on our podcast, please consider donating to our campaign. You can find it on Facebook or just go to our website, fireborninstitute.org, and donate there. We work hard to keep our resources free and we rely on listeners like you to do so! So please consider giving any amount, even $1, to help us keep this podcast going!

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Working Around Being Uncomfortable: How to Self-Advocate
Difficult Topics, Great for All Ages, Self-Advocacy

Working Around Being Uncomfortable: How to Self-Advocate

Speaking out against injustices committed against others is easy. When I see someone else being treated badly, I quickly judge it as unacceptable and have very little trouble voicing outrage. For instance, when I tutored at a middle school and saw a boy knee another boy in the groin, I immediately spoke to the offender and then discussed the situation with my adviser at the school.

However, when we are the victims, often we do not feel that outrage, and we do not stand up for ourselves. Sticking up for yourself is much harder than sticking up for someone else.

I remember waiting for a doctor at a walk-in clinic with my aunt, Margaret. I had poison ivy. It was crowded, and we waited there forever. Eventually, Aunt Margaret went to the receptionist and complained, loudly. I was so embarrassed. I kept thinking; Doctors are very busy. They will get to me when they have time. It’s just poison ivy. I bet everyone else who has gone in has just had it much worse than I do. But thank goodness Aunt Margaret had complained because apparently, they had forgotten about me. We could have truly been waiting there forever.

When my husband came home with an unfairly graded test recently, I encouraged him to talk with the teaching assistant (TA) who graded it to discuss why he got points off (and to maybe get some points back!). (Self-advocating for a better grade on a test was never actually a problem for me, but it is for lots of students). He resisted. He would rather just accept his lower grade, since it was above average anyway, and just try to do better next time.

Why would he do that?! Because self-advocating takes time. Because self-advocating is uncomfortable. Because arguing for points back on tests is not “cool” (mostly because in general in America, it is not “cool” to be serious about school).

But the problem with not self-advocating and not getting those points back is that now his overall grade will suffer, his grade will not be reflective of his actual understanding of the material, and if he does not talk to the TA about the grading system, he will not know how to improve for the next test.

So how do you get comfortable with self-advocating?

For starters, your child has to practice.

Communicate with your child about what is fair.

Re-frame his understanding of the experience: Explain that your child is not asking for anything unreasonable, but rather what he deserves. Teach him how to communicate that effectively with his teacher. 

When I ask for a better grade on a test, I never start with that. Instead, I ask, “Would you mind going through this test with me? I still do not fully understand all of the answers…” or “I have a few lingering questions…” Then I go question-by-question explaining why I thought my answer was right and ask, “Am I missing something?” When I do this, it does not feel like standing up for myself; it feels more like I am asking for my teacher’s help understanding a concept. Teachers respond well to this as opposed to outright demands for better grades. It gives them the opportunity to choose to change your grade. While you are self-advocating, it feels more like explaining your thought process, which can really help a teacher understand you better and increase her desire to help you learn.

A problem frustrating parents since homework was invented is children missing homework and then not wanting to discuss it with their teachers. That is an understandable feeling. It is easier to do nothing. Also, he is probably embarrassed and does not think his teacher will make an exception for him because he really screwed up. It was his fault, and he does not want to hear his teacher tell him that. But there is a workaround.

Unfortunately, first, you have to admit to the wrongdoing. That is the hard part, but it is also the first step to getting your teacher on your side. Teachers much prefer students who come to them for help than students who ignore them. So…

Step One:

Stay behind after class until all the other students have left, approach your teacher, and say, “I am worried about my grade. I know I have not turned in several homework assignments and they are very late. Is there some way I can make some of the points up or can I get extra credit some other way?”

Depending on your child’s age and the reputation they have already created, their teacher will be more (or less) lenient. Sometimes, that first step is all your child will need, and their teacher will go through which assignments need to be re-done. Sometimes that will not be the case.

Step Two:

If step one is not enough, say, “Okay, but would you mind telling me all the homework that I missed so that I can re-do them anyway and show you that I do know the material?” (The same can be said of re-doing a test on which they did poorly.) Even if the teacher does not improve their grades, it will certainly generate good will (and an improved reputation) that they can cash in on later.

Moral of the story: find ways to help your child workaround the uncomfortable feelings of standing up for themselves by re-framing the situation and the way they communicate with their teacher so that they start practicing standing up for himself.


Reference:

Davis, P. (2015). Personal communication.

The Anger Reaction and the Humor Alternative
Parent-Child Communication

The Anger Reaction and the Humor Alternative

Not a lot of people know this about me, but growing up I excelled at throwing temper tantrums. I have since learned to control them. However, sometimes the “Tiger Kat”, a term coined by my dad, comes out.

When I was young, to distract me from my overwhelmingly angry feelings as I yelled and stomped around, my dad would tell me, “No, no, no. You are doing this all wrong. If you are going to throw a temper tantrum, you have to get down on the floor and kick and yell and throw your arms around.” Then he would show me how it was done. It was absurd. Parents do not throw temper tantrums! But, more importantly, I would realize that I was not going to do that crazy thing, so maybe I needed to cool off. These thoughts made me uncomfortable and increased my frustration. They resulted in me going to my room, steaming, but also starting to think more rationally. Other times I would actually get on the floor with my dad, yell and kick some too, then feel silly and stop my tantrum.

As you can see, humor can be a good way to deal with anger: “it’s hard to be mad and laugh at the same time” (Abraham, & Studaker-Cordner, 2013). Humor also helps your child see incongruities in his behavior and communication.

It can be hard to tell a joke when your child is yelling and your nerves are increasingly on edge, but it is still worth trying. “Humor—free of hurtful sarcasm or ridicule—neutralizes conflict by helping you:

  • “Interrupt the power struggle
  • “Be more spontaneous. Shared laughter and play helps you break free from rigid ways of thinking and behaving, allowing you to see the problem in a new way and find a creative solution.
  • “Be less defensive. In playful settings, we hear things differently and can tolerate learning things about ourselves that we otherwise might find unpleasant or even painful.
  • “Let go of inhibitions. Laughter opens us up, freeing us to express what we truly feel and allowing our deep, genuine emotions to rise to the surface” (Robinson et. al., 2015).

Still, out-temper-tantruming your kids may not work. For instance, when you have a teenager who is upset, annoyed, or irate, she has probably already learned not to run around the house yelling at the top of her lungs. Her anger looks different from the temper tantrums she had when she was younger. So, if you attempt to get on the floor and fling your limbs, it might convince your teenager that you are treating her like a kid and not taking her feelings seriously instead of turning it into a humorous situation. Another type of humor may be appropriate in this situation.

A Few Tips on Introducing Humor During an Argument

Joke about the situation, not about the other person.

  • Say, in a conciliatory way, “How did we get here? This is ridiculous!” 
  • Add perspective. One time, I lost my luggage on a trip and took my anxiety out on my mom. “BUT WHAT WILL I WEAR TO DINNER?!” I yelled at her. With a little smile giving away her pleasure with her joke, she responded, “Well, I guess you’ll have to go naked.” It did not make me laugh, but I did realize the absurdity in my thought process and it ended the argument. 
  • Be self-deprecating to show there are more important things, such as your relationship and the other person’s happiness than being right. For instance, when I would argue with my dad and raise my voice to say something self-righteous or “That’s not what I mean!”, he would cower, look up at me with puppy dog eyes, and whimper as if I had scared him. It changed the power dynamic in a funny way and always made me giggle.

Once the joke has been delivered, there is often a break in the conversation. Use that gap to rebuild your relationship. 

Talk about the problem later, when you are both in calmer moods. “The best time to sort out an argument is when those involved in it are not overly emotionally invested in the argument itself and the tempers have been extinguished” (How to Use Humor, 2015). After you have both laughed and smiled, give each other some time to yourselves before returning to the conversation.

If you try to defuse tension with humor, but it backfires or your joke was not that funny, say so. “I was trying to lighten the mood, but I guess I did a terrible job with that joke.” Then you can laugh at how awful you are at telling jokes.

Don’t Feel Like You Have a Good Enough Sense of Humor to Do This?

Me neither.

My husband is great with humor. He has been practicing self-deprecating jokes since he was young to help him form relationships. (That is partly how he snagged me.) But for those of us not like my husband? Robinson, Segal, and Smith recommend you:

  • Read comics.
  • Practice telling jokes.
  • Watch silly movies.
  • Dance around to cheesy music. (My family likes to sing silly songs).
  • Play with the “experts”, i.e. animals, babies, and toddlers.
  • Practice bantering with sales people.

References:

Abraham, K. & M. Studaker-Cordner (2013). Parenting coping skills: How to use humor to defuse fights with your child. EmpoweringParents.com

Robinson, L., J. Segal, & M. Smith (2015). Fixing relationships with humor. Helpguide.org

How to use humor to stop an argument. (2015) WikiHow.