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.
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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:
- 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.)
- 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).
- 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).
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nurture and enjoy close relationships. Connection is a basic human need so having strong relationships and social support is essential to happiness.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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