As Thanksgiving draws near, we will gather with family and friends to give thanks for the people, places or things that support our daily lives. Research shows that expressing this gratitude can promote happiness. Yet, this can be a difficult task when life is not going the way we want it to. But if we, and those families we serve, are able to find the silver lining even on cloudy days, life will feel a little easier.
“Gratitude is associated with optimism and has been determined that grateful people are happier, receive more social support, are less stressed, and are less depressed.” Read more...
Social psychologist, Kelly Neff, proposes practicing gratitude as the first of 11 Ways to Live a Happier Life:
- Practice Gratitude
- Find a Place of Flow
- Smile More
- Embrace Your Mistakes
- Maintain an Optimistic Attitude
- Surround Yourself with Supportive People
- Learn When to Say “No”
- Unplug and Spend More Time in Nature
- Practice Forgiveness
- Try New Things
- Look in the Mirror Every Morning and Say “I Love You!”
[Read more about each of the 11 ways]:
What are your favorites on this list? I find it hard to choose. I am grateful to my niece for alerting me to this simple, but powerful list. Each time I practice one of these strategies, I notice a lift in my spirits, especially when facing challenging situations. What other strategies do you use to feel happier? The one strategy I would add is Breathe Deeply-–to enjoy the moment, or prepare to respond mindfully.
Many of these strategies come from the field of Positive Psychology. You may remember that, in a previous post, we noted that Positive Psychology proposes that happiness is just one component of well-being. As a new field, it started with a focus on happiness [Martin Seligman (2004). Authentic Happiness]. This is an interesting twist of focus for Seligman, who was first known for his work with depression that results from “learned helplessness”, a pessimistic mindset based on past experience, which too often precludes people from making positive changes in their lives.
Embracing optimism, Positive Psychology has moved to a more comprehensive approach that might be referred to as well-being [see Martin Seligman (2012). Flourish]. This larger focus on well-being encompasses: 1) positive emotions and relationships, 2) engagement, 3) a sense of purpose, and 4) a sense of accomplishment, which are fueled by an optimistic mindset. Seligman and his colleagues have developed programs to teach people the skills of optimism and well-being to prevent and manage depression, and to build resilience.
“Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with unfortunate news.”
So What Does This Have To Do with Parenting?
Imagine a world in which we, as parents and family supporters, modeled, talked about and practiced gratitude and the 10 other ways to a happier life with our children every day! Just doing 2 or 3 of these each day could put a positive spin on the day. If you’d like a little more guidance on how to bring the power of positive thinking into parents’ and children’s lives, Jeni Hooper, a child psychologist and parent coach in the United Kingdom, has developed The Flourishing Programme to guide parents in nurturing their children using the principles of Positive Psychology [Jeni Hooper (2012) What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish]. In her book, Hooper discusses how parents can help children build 5 Factors that are the core areas of psychological well-being:
Factor 1: Personal Strengths: the inner compass that guides our choices
Factor 2: Emotional Well-Being: creating a positive balance
Factor 3: Positive Communication: building trust and fulfilling relationships
Factor 4: Learning Strengths: developing learning habits to motivate and get results
Factor 5: Resilience: how to avoid roadblocks and bounce back from setbacks
The Flourishing Programme aims to support parents to help children learn the self-awareness, skills and choices needed to develop positive well-being.
Both the 11 Ways to a happier life listed above and Hooper’s Flourishing Programme resonate with nurturing parenting practices. By assessing parenting with the families we serve, we can see how they are promoting the development of gratitude in their children. In the KIPS parenting tool [LINK] we built items that are specifically relevant to developing gratitude, such as support for emotions, encouragement and promoting exploration. Using the assessment information to increase parenting quality, we can nurture the parent-child relationship and promote the development of gratitude, which strengthens the path to happiness, health and well-being for both parents and children.
Download the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) Validation Summary
KIPS was validated with support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Download highlights of the research showing that KIPS is valid, reliable and practical for use in programs serving diverse families.