I live with two teenagers, and sometimes their collective negativity drives me crazy.
I don’t get it. I’ve raised them to see the glass half full, to take a lemon and make lemonade. When they were little, I read them The Little Engine That Could. I’ve pointed them toward zen lessons and exposed them to metaphysical thought and the power of meditation to observe thoughts and to consciously change negative attitudes for a healthier ones. Unfortunately, in their current state of teen cynicism, getting them to act as if they’re feeling positive or even neutral when they are in any way grumpy, is beyond my parenting skill.
None of this change your attitude/change your life philosophy is new information. Once upon a time, long before parenthood was on my radar, when I was young, single and training to be a city Metro driver, a crotchety old-timer on the fleet taught me to smile at each and every passenger who stepped onto my trolley. He was quite sure it would change the entire ride for everyone on board. In the following two years, I experienced this truth first hand. The handful of times I was too grumpy to start my run in a good mood, the entire trolley would empty onto the downtown Seattle sidewalk, unleashing a collective foul mood on the city.
So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the most current trend in psychology is called Positive Psychology. The basic idea is if you have a happy attitude, you will raise your success, raise your productivity, raise your speed and accuracy and effectiveness. It’s a win, win, win.
One champion of the science of happiness is Harvard-trained Shawn Achor. He speaks widely about the current research in psychology and neuroscience. In the following three clips, you can watch his talk given recently in Texas. (Even if you don’t have time for all three, it’s worth watching the first five-minute clip for his unicorn story.)
Here’s a summary of Achor’s practical tips for how to train the brain to function at a happier level:
- Start every day with this 15 minute writing exercise: Tell something that makes you feel good.
- Simplify vs. multitask
- Use your strengths.
- Meditate. Watch your breath.
- Write down 5 things that are good right now. (a.k.a. Practice gratitude.)
Achor’s current focus is business productivity, and that’s a useful application. But why wait to establish these life habits? Why not loop Achor’s steps into educational curriculum? Why not train kids from their earliest to be happy? Why not train teachers that the most important thing that they do is to create a safe and joyful environment? (All the best teachers do this instinctively, and always have done so. Even trolley drivers do. They don’t wait for Harvard research to give them the green light.)
For more information Achor has written a book, The Happiness Advantage, where he expands on the findings and ideas he’s outlined in his public talks. If you want to hear him in person, he’ll be speaking May 14th at TEDxBloomington — shameless plug — in southern Indiana. The conference theme is “The Wisdom of Play.” Interestingly, Achor was a student and teaching fellow under Happier author Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.
One of the best things about the research done on the science of happiness is that Harvard experts have determined you can train your brain to make this positive shift at any age. The only thing that surprises me about this new line of research is that it’s taken Harvard academics this long to figure out what every mother knows–that when she and her kids are happy, everything else falls into place.
Now, if I could only convince my moody teens!
4 thoughts on “The Science of Happiness”
I need some positive thinking in my own home with teens, thanks!
This is a great post! While I am a parent of three boys (all 2.4 y/o and under), I’m sure that my wife and I will have our hands full when they are teens. Given that teen brains are STILL developing into adulthood (for those that have them ;), presenting them with a positive attitude is all that you can do, and they will have to take care of the rest.
As a Mother to multiple teens… I so empathize.
Nice article, going to plug it on The Daily Dose as a good Monday Morning Read.
I love the bus-driver story. We really can change the world, no matter what it is we do for a living. Thanks for the reminder. Great article
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