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Cultivating happiness

Can we teach children to be happier by focusing more on the positive and by building resilience? Christine Carter, the executive director of the Greater Good Science Centre at University of California: Berkeley, has created a new project at the Centre which aims to teach parents about the ?social science of raising happy kids?

There is a paradox at the heart of Positive Psychology which is that the brain finds it very easy to be negative, yet is is vitally important for humans to experience positive emotions. Previous studies have shown that adults who write every day about three good things which happened to them were happier and less depressed 6 months after, when compared to a control group. This is because the mind is learning to focus more on the positive.  It is not that there are fewer negative things going on, it is just that the brain is learning to pay attention to the good things. Carter points out that most of these interventions have been studied with adults, fewer studies have been carried out on young people, and only the passage of time will reveal whether these interventions work long term.

What particularly interests Carter is how to help parents to make their children confident and happy in the midst of so much materialism and entitlement.  Carter herself has cultivated resilience, she says that as a child she was naturally unhappy but somehow learned the skills to be happier, and now the science of Positive Psychology is informing her and the parents she works with on how to help.  Particularly, Carter has been interested in Carol Dweck?s work on mindsets.  She reports research which shows that at a younger children are optimistic, but when they make mistakes or are criticised, 30 - 40 % lose it.  They become pessimistic and self-doubting.  Cultivating resilience using Carol Dweck?s brainology is one way to counteract this learned helplessness. Children can learn to take the criticism and failures which are an inevitable and important part of life.  Carter gives parents advice on how to help their children, one of her suggestions is to regularly ask children about mistakes they have made, and what they have learned from it.  This can be done around the dinner table.  Carter talks about studies which have shown the benefits of eating dinner together as a family.  

Creating habits and rituals, such as learning to savour the moment, attending to the positive and spending time with the family, can be cultivated by parents and educators.  Though some people are genetically prone to being pessimistic, around 40% responds to intentional activities.  This means that there are some things which people can learn to do to help build happiness and resilience. To read the article click here
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