Earlier this year, I took the Yale University online course on “The Science of Well-Being” and to say it was enlightening would be an understatement. It’s free on Coursera if you are looking to take a deep dive into the topic yourself, but in this post I will go through the 3 concepts I found most useful from this course and how you can use them with your teens to boost everyone’s happiness.
Gratitude has been noted as one of the many secrets to a happier life. When we take the time to appreciate what we have and the life we are currently living, we spend less time bemoaning our circumstances and stop casting our eyes in the direction of greener grass. Does your family go around the table each Thanksgiving and name one thing they’re thankful for? Well that doesn’t have to wait for the holidays! Consider doing this same practice before a family meal once a week or once per day and you’ll be surprised how uplifting it can be. After finishing the course, I began keeping a gratitude journal where I take note of at least one thing each day that I am thankful for or that I took a moment to savor. This habit has amazed me and I find myself living in the moment more, committing more small moments to memory, and seeking out gratitude more reflexively.
2. Getting Active
If you feel you may have formed a molecular bond with your couch, rest assured that you’re not alone. Habits – good and bad- take time to form, and we certainly had plenty of time to grow accustomed to the sedentary lifestyle in these last 15 months. Being self aware of this is the first step to reversing it! While 30 minutes or more a day of moderate activity is ideal, starting small with just 15 or 20 minutes a week is a great choice. Staying active helps get our blood pumping and boosts tons of the happiness related chemicals in our mind like endorphins and dopamine. Going for a walk after dinner as a family, or just one-on-one with your teen is a great way to get a simple 20 minutes or so of movement in and it can double as a time to reflect on the day together or just talk about how they’re doing.
3. Acts of Kindness
My personal favorite secret to happiness is to spread happiness for others. Making someone else’s day can make your day too! Small acts of kindness can have a phenomenal impact on one’s mental health – and I really do mean small. You don’t have to start your own non-profit or become a big time philanthropist to feel the positive impacts of kindness. Holding the door for someone, paying it forward at the drive through, passing on a complement to a coworker – all little 5 second tasks can build up and boost your day more than you could believe! For a little bigger boost, consider signing up for some volunteer opportunities with your teen. Ask them what issues they are passionate about or what problems they see in the community and seek out ways to help in the areas they are most interested in. One easy and fun option can be helping out at the Northwest Indiana Foodbank packing boxes for the elderly or helping with one of their mobile markets getting food to those who need it! This is a great way to help out the community, build a bond with those you volunteer with, and make your own world a little brighter all at once.
As we head towards new horizons and beginnings this summer, now is a better time than ever to try and pick up at least one new healthy habit to make our days happier. Realistically, it can be incredibly difficult to squeeze out time in our already busy schedules for things that don’t feel immediately impactful or productive. It’s important to realize this and push through the initial discouragement while reminding ourselves that building habits, while often tedious, is one of the most productive things we can do even when the results are hard to identify. There is no shame in baby steps, so even if you start off with the smallest version of just one of these three concepts, you can work that into a snowball of happiness eventually! But you’ll never get there if you don’t take your first baby step; so be proud of your small actions and keep your eyes ahead on the good things to come!