Raising Happy Children

The other day, my elder one went into an elaborate discussion about career options he should be exploring.  At twelve, he was stressed about his future! Children today are stressed and are succumbing. Here are some facts :

-India’s average rate of suicide is higher than the world average and maximum numbers occur in the age group of 15-29 years.

-A study conducted in 2010 said 95-100 people commit suicide in India every day and of these, a disturbing 40% are in the adolescent age group. [Source: CNN-IBN Report, Jan 13, 2010]

-The typical age of onset of social anxiety disorder is 12 to 19.

Traditionally, we have focused on failures and shortcomings – be it the children’s or ours’. Then we spend a big chunk of our time, miserably trying to overcome those. What we forget is, that all of us are born with some inherent strengths. This is the gist of years of research by a number of Positive Psychologists across the globe. Happiness and material success are linked only till the point of providing basics, after that, the link somewhat snaps. True joy does not come from succeeding financially alone; it comes from a whole bunch of other things. And being happy is the best antidote against quite a few disorders – psychological as well as physical.  So can happiness be learnt? To a certain degree – yes. A few tiny steps go a long way. These have been proven to work with both children as well as adults.

How to reduce stress: Tip 1- Love thyself

A day that starts with a flying kiss to yourself will end with a spring in your step and not slouching shoulders. Before stepping out, stand in front of the mirror and wrap your arms around yourself. Feel the warmth of that hug. Tell yourself that you love that face staring back from the mirror, and he/she truly rocks. That’s your first smile of the day.

How to reduce stress: Tip 2- Discover your strengths

When we talk of strengths, we usually think of them as leadership skills, mathematical prowess or academic success. On the other hand, what it actually means is character strength. This is not to be confused with moral standards set by the society or religion although they do reflects fragments of those. Character strengths are those universal traits that help us reach our full potential with our family, relationships and work.

The first step in discovering your strength is an easy, quick test in the form of The Values in Action inventory available at Via Me Website. It has two versions – one for the age group 10 to 17, and one for adults. Take some time out to complete the test and discover your signature strengths. The tests are free unless you want a detailed report.

How to reduce stress: Tip 3 – Use your strengths

Once you know the top strengths, use them at least once a day. Some ideas to get you started are listed in the article,  340 ways to use character strengths by Tayyab Rashid & Afroze Anjum. Rather than focus on the strengths that do not define us, we ought to regularly use the ones that are present to enable a fulfilled life. Gradually you have to learn to use them innovatively – that way it never gets boring!

How to reduce stress: Tip 4 – The’ Three Blessings’ journal

This one is a simple exercise, and has been proven to boost happiness. Get one of those cool looking diaries for the little one and yourself. Before bedtime, set aside ten minutes and list three things that went well and why.

Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish, has this to say about the exercise, “Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”

From personal experience, I have seen a distinct shift in the boys’ attitude and mine too! The fact that you do not need to write long paragraphs makes it entirely doable. Going back and reading the entries in darker times is sure to bring a smile on the face.

How to reduce stress: Tip 5 – Gratitude visit

This one is a little awkward, I know. But again, it works – for all ages.

– Think of someone who has been exceptionally nice to you or done something wonderful for you, yet was never properly thanked.

– Think about the benefits this person brought about for you,

– Write a letter to him/her, expressing your gratitude.

– Deliver the letter personally, and spend some time with him/her talking about what you wrote.

The studies that have used this exercise have reported higher degree of happiness even a month later. Encouraging the children to do this not only enhances their happiness quotient, but also empowers them to see, and value the goodness in life.

How to reduce stress: Tip 6 – Find that flow!

You know how we lose track of time when we do something we love? That’s flow. Find that one thing that engages you (except TV!) and make it an integral part of life. My younger one loves origami and the elder one makes cartoons, apart from reading. These activities have no academic value but are immense happiness boosters.

How to reduce stress: Tip 7 – Pay it forward

All religions and moral science books have harped about the benefits of doing good deeds for a long time but now research backs it. Just small, random acts of kindness. This is not to be confused with tossing a rupee to the beggar on the street though. Kindness that makes another person dependent is not exactly a great idea. These are a few examples of kindness acts that people use in their lives:

– See those labourers toiling in the Sun? Go give them a bottle of cold water.

– Share your candies with the house help

– Help the little brother with homework

– When the confused pedestrian is trying to cross the road, stop the car. Never mind the mad honking from the cars behind you!

– Say thanks to the guard who just helped you park the car.

– Visit your grandma.

– Bake a cake for a friend. Not a birthday cake, a ‘just-because’ cake.

Various studies have reported a significant boost in the participants’ mood after indulging in such acts. Add variety to the tasks you do, or else even kindness gets monotonous after a while. Emphasise to the children that kindness doesn’t have to be a two-way street. We ought to do it without any expectations.

How to reduce stress: Tip 8 – Gift-wrap some ‘Time’

This becomes very important considering the current pace of life. Three times a week, gift your time to three different people. Spend time with them, do stuff for them or help them do something. Interestingly, studies have concluded, that when we feel strapped of time, we should become more generous with it! People, who spend time on others, might feel less time constrained and are better able to cope with their responsibilities.

There are many other things that one can do, but these are a few easy ones to start with. Happiness is like vaccination against hopelessness, stress and negative affect. It is time we gave ourselves the much needed protective shot. These simple steps boost joy, and transform it into an Invisibility Cloak of sorts making the negativity slip past without noticing us.  So go on, and embrace a smile.

Previosuly posted at: Womensweb.in

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