Teach children to be positive
I have two questions for you. The first: what is your top priority for your children?
If you are like the thousands of people interviewed in a scientific study by the University of Pennsylvania, US, with samples from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, community settings and countries, your reply would be one of the following: “Happiness”, “Contentment”, “Love”, “Confidence”, “Meaning”, “Fulfillment”, “Satisfaction”, “Health”, or“Kindness”.
My second question is: In one word, what is the school teaching your children?
If you are like the average parent in this research, your reply will be one of the following: “Literacy”, “Maths”, “Work”, “Discipline”, “Conformity”, “Thinking skills”, or “Test taking”.
As you can see, there is no overlap in the two lists.
So why are they so different? Why aren’t schools teaching our children what we most want them to experience?
Basically because the education system we have in place is intended to create workers.
It is not concerned about whether children are happy. Instead it seeks to ensure they are effective, cheap, standard and obedient.
If you have any doubt about it, think about how your own life is today.
Is the life you have what you would want for your children?
Did you ever say, after learning some big lesson in life: “Oh, if somebody had taught me this skill or insight at school, I would not have had to suffer all this to learn it”?
That leads me to the topic of positive education.
Positive education is one of the disciplines of positive psychology, a branch of pyschology developed in the past few years by cutting-edge researchers in psychology, led by Martin Seligman.
Seligman, a former president of the American Society of Psychology, is professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and has devoted the past 40 years of his life to scientific research in psychology. He is, for example, one of the developers (in the 1970s) of congnitive-behavioural therapy, used worldwide today as a more effective psychological therapy to treat depression.
Positive education holds that although literacy, discipline and achievement should be maintained as one of the main focuses in education, it is important for schools to foster other skills that are critical for the well-being of children and future adults to facilitate success in life.
These skills include, to mention a few:
• Positive emotions (how to increase your satisfaction with life);
• Engagement (passion for what you do);
• Self-esteem (feeling very positive about yourself);
• Optimism (thinking that the best future is ahead you);
• Resilience (when things go wrong, the recovery time is short);
• Positive relationships (learn to be surrounded by people who really care about you).
Why should positive education be applied in our schools?
The shockingly high rate of depression in children, which was inexistent a few years ago, continues to increase exponentially in the West such that it is now considered the epidemic of the 21st century.
So one good reason is to give children the tools to avoid falling into depression.
The good news is that we don’t need to keep churning out obedient, cheap, unhappy workers, and by doing so can save the substantial costs required for the multi-billion-euro industry of antidepressant drugs.
Instead, we can help children to discover their greatest expression as human beings, to master the tools to cope with the negative situations life exposes them to, and to develop resilience to recover quickly from setbacks.
Another good reason to use positive education in schools is to increase the level of happiness in society. Contrary to what many might think, not being unhappy is not the same as being happy.
Research demonstrates that while material wealth in the Western world has increased dramatically in the past 50 years, the average level of happiness has not increased. Indeed, happiness has actually decreased in many developed countries.
For example, in the US, Japan and Australia, people are not happier than 50 years ago. While in Britain, Germany and Russia, people are happier.
Governments measure their respective country’s material progress only in terms of gross domestic product. But GDP rises even when divorce and suicide rates rise, since these situations ultimately lead to more sales.
Yet another good reason to use positive education is that the higher the well-being of our children, the more they learn.
Here is a practical exercise you can use in school or home called ‘The three good things exercise’ (applicable for children as well as for adults).
Every night, before going to bed, write down three good things that went well for you today. These things can be small (like “I had fun running with my friend”) or really big (like “I made a cake with daddy”).
Then, for each of the three things, write: (a) “why it happened”, (b) “what it means to me”, and (c) “how I can have more of these good things in my life from now on”.
Research demonstrates that if you do this for a few weeks you will be less depressed and more happy.
If these ideas resonate with you or if you are interested in offering this type of education for your children, e-mail [email protected].