Scientific research has identified factors that determine a set point, or level, of happiness. Click To TweetThese factors can include life circumstances and intentional activity. A person’s set point is considered stable and linked to one’s genetics, temperament and personality. Life circumstances are also considered somewhat stable and include age, gender, personal history, etc. Lastly, intentional activity involves actions and thoughts that a person can engage in on a daily basis, such as exercise, being optimistic and setting goals.
While a person’s set point and life circumstances are more stable, intentional activities are something that we can hone in on to improve our happiness! So, how exactly can a person increase their happiness? Renowned psychologist Martin Seligman has suggested that a person can increase their happiness by focusing on specific things in the past, present and future.
Gratitude for the Past
Having positive feelings about the past can be difficult for children at times. Click To Tweet Often, children struggle with having little control over their circumstances, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to have positive feelings about the past. One way we can do this is by increasing gratitude for past positive events. How can we instill gratitude in our children?
Gratitude journaling is one way we can set aside time for our children to think about past events in a positive light. As mentioned above, it can be difficult to not dwell on negative memories, so setting aside time to focus on positive views of the past can increase feelings of happiness. Have a discussion with your child about what it means to be grateful and guide them to focus their attention on positive experiences related to school, friends and family.
Research conducted by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough found that journaling daily in the beginning can lead to greater increases in happiness. So, at first, have your child take the time to journal daily. Once they get used to focusing on positive emotions about the past, journaling can be limited to once a week. Have your child start by thinking for five minutes about their day and then writing down things they are grateful for.Discuss examples of events, people or talents that your child can be grateful for. Click To Tweet
They can get their thoughts out by listing them, or you can ask them to write about their experiences in a more detailed way. Discuss examples of events, people or talents that your child can be grateful for. For example, it can be something small, such as getting to spend time with a friend that day. Setting aside time to reflect on gratitude can be so important in our fast-paced world, especially when we catch ourselves dwelling on the negative things going on in our lives.
Also, if your child happens to be quite young and unable to write or keep a journal, then there are other ways they can express their gratitude. This can include drawing or using Play-Doh to create something that physically represents their gratitude. Creating skits using dolls or action figures works, too! If he/she seems unenthused with keeping a journal, then being creative is a great outlet instead. Poems, short stories or writing new words to their favorite songs can be just as fun and beneficial.
Creating a Discussion
While keeping a journal can be helpful in creating something tangible to look back on later, this can make as a great discussion piece around the dinner table. It doesn’t have to be a one-time conversation that occurs on Thanksgiving when everyone takes turns going around saying what they’re grateful for. It can be a more fluid discussion that guides your children to focus on positive events, experiences, people or talents. It’s important to put aside time to bring positive emotions to the forefront.
Teaching your child to reflect and be grateful is one thing; it’s a whole other skill to EXPRESS gratitude towards others. Taking the time to let others know that you’re thankful or grateful and appreciate them is so important towards building relationships with others, and this is something your child should learn.
We all like to feel appreciated, and when someone expresses their gratitude, it sets up a positive experience that can build a relationship and show children how their gratitude can positively impact others. Talk with your children about ways they can perform “gratitude visits”.
This can involve them writing a letter to someone or taking the time to tell them how much they appreciate them or something they did. For example, children can write a letter to their teacher to express gratitude for extra help they received or how their teacher makes school fun and enjoyable.
Eliminating a Sense of Entitlement
Many children and teenagers today are given so many opportunities, privileges and material possessions without even asking, and it can result in them feeling entitled. Teaching your children to slow down and reflect on how certain things in life don’t just appear out of thin air can increase their gratitude, hopefully making them realize that they should be kind to others and “count their blessings”.
By having children pitch in for material possessions, they can learn to appreciate what they have and the value of money. Also, saving their money over time can help children see the importance of delaying gratification towards what they want. Other ways that show children how to “count their blessings” include volunteering, helping those less fortunate through service projects or donating items to those in need.
Leading by ExampleInstill the philosophy in your child that actions speak louder than words. Click To Tweet
Lastly, modeling for your children will help instill gratitude and its importance. Talk about how grateful you are, for example. You’ll be modeling how to express appreciation for others. Say “thank you” sincerely and say it often. Also, have “Thank You” notes on hand since these can be used for so many occasions that go beyond just birthdays.
Get your children involved in writing these notes to people that took the time to do something special for them. This can evolve from scribbles, drawings, having your child dictate what they want to say and having them write them independently. Model this by writing your own notes throughout the year for various occasions.
Being in such close proximity to MacDill Air Force Base and having the military be such a strong presence in the Tampa Bay area allows for many opportunities for children to give back and express gratitude to veterans and/or those that serve. “Thank You” notes and community service go hand-in-hand, as appreciation and gratitude are shown strongest through action.
Helping You and Your Child
As I mentioned above, children and teenagers often feel as though they have little control over life’s circumstances and oftentimes struggle to feel gratitude about the positive things they have going for them. Taking the time to reflect on positive emotions about the past and instilling gratitude in your kids can improve their happiness. If your child is struggling with constant negativity and doesn’t appear to be happy, then our psychologists in Tampa can help.