In 2010, researchers at Wayne State University carried out a study of baseball cards from the 1950s. The players of the day weren't being categorized by their batting averages or strikeouts but by something much simpler - their smiles!
The study surmised that there was a correlation to the happiness of the players and the longevity of their lives in so much that the players who were smiling on their cards lived, on average, a staggering 11 years longer than their non-smiling counterparts.
While it must be said that this study has never been replicated, it does provide another interesting signpost towards the impact positivity can have on oneself. And it’s not the only one!
The field of Positive Psychology - the science of what makes life living - has become ever more prominent in recent years. Through its key learnings, spearheaded by Dr. Martin Seligman, it has been determined that there are many things that we can do in our homes, classrooms and workplaces, that can have a dramatic impact on our wellbeing and, in essence, make us happier.
These strategies are not aimed at ridding a person of their negative emotions. As I tell my class all of the time, being sad is not a bad thing; being angry is a natural part of life. However, being positive allows us to show up in the way we want the world to see us.
Positive Mindset Opportunities
Like with any improvement that we want to make in our lives, fostering a positive mindset takes time and effort. We teach our children all about the benefits of practice. For example, if we want to get better at our times tables then we need to practice habitually.
Taking control of our wellbeing is no different. There are many positive psychology interventions that are backed up by science and Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, ‘The How of Happiness’ outlines them brilliantly. Below are three that I have used personally and also reimagined as lessons in class.
Expressing gratitude shifts our lens to what is happening around us. Grateful people are more likely to have greater satisfaction with their lives. They also sleep better, are more optimistic and other centered. Counting your blessings is a simple activity that is practiced daily, weekly or whenever you need a pick up.
Take a few minutes to write (or tell a friend) three things that you are grateful for. More importantly however, add the contribution you made towards these gratitudes.
(e.g. I am grateful for the lovely dinner I had today; I made it happen by buying delicious ingredients. I am grateful for the hug my mommy gave me; my mommy gave me a hug because I told her I loved her).
Research has discovered that our brain acts in a very similar way when we carry out an act of kindness to when we receive an act of kindness. In fact, it is argued that the feeling and emotion generated is so strong that our mind cannot tell the difference.
As such, carrying out an act of kindness can make us as happy as receiving one. What is important to remember is that an act of kindness doesn’t need to be acknowledged by the recipient to have a positive effect on you. Open yourself up to surrendering the act and build it into the course of your life (it can be as simple as opening a door or helping a friend with their work).
The language we use when encountering a difficult or negative scenario can have a huge impact on fostering a positive mindset. The old saying about a glass being half full or half empty comes to mind and by taking something negative and encouraging yourself to find a positive angle, you can change the momentum of a potential negative spiral.
Here are some examples -
“Traffic is so bad today, it is going to take me forever to get home!” Flip it: “I have been wanting to listen to this podcast, now I have time to do it!”
“Mr. Feeney, I can’t find my Math sheet from yesterday.” Flip it: “It is an opportunity to clean up and organize my tray.”
I would encourage you to work with your child to find out what works for you and for them. The list above is just the tip of the iceberg and every week further studies and suggestions are emerging as people begin to prioritize their positivity. Every emotion that we have needs to be digested, so why not make happiness part of your daily diet?