Statistics show that you have one birthday. Imagine, only one birthday a year. Ah, but there are three hundred sixty-four non-birthdays! It is precisely why we came here to cheer a very happy, un-birthday to you.
– Lewis Carroll, Alice & # 39; s Adventures in Wonderland
Un-birthdays. It's nonsense, right? That is, after all, the point of the Mad Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; he is angry. But what if he has a point in this case? Every day is a reason to party, even small performances are worth remembering. Sounds drowsy, I know. Except that it turns out, there is a lot of research to support the unorthodox habit of the Mad Hatter to celebrate every day: a method of his madness, as they say. And as parents we can do our kids a favor by teaching them to look a bit more like Carroll's Mad Hatter.
"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is a work of fantasy. It is not really a case study about the effectiveness of positivity in parenting. It is also not a practical guide for raising our children. Too much tea. However, there is a core of wisdom in the Mad Hatter's birthday present. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once remarked that it is the human nature to feel negative experiences, but we do not really feel the lack of negative emotions. It is simply a case of stimulus versus no stimulus. Un-birthdays are not a thing unless we choose to celebrate them.
So you create new feelings to fill that void. If you look around you, there are plenty of real-life opportunities to stop and acknowledge the times when everything goes according to plan.
For example, I remember when my eldest child "graduated" from kindergarten. His teacher gave him a small diploma that he could not even read, and then 12 4-year-olds paraded across a stage like "Pomp and Circumstance" at full volume from someone's iPhone speaker. I whispered to the other parents and wondered why it was necessary to get such a production from the pre-school education. After all, it is not that they have failed.
I rolled my eyes that day, but the joke was probably on me, because there is a logical argument to celebrate something every day in the lives of my children. Just like a birthday.
The human brain is designed to favor negative information and memories. Unfortunately, the primitive people who remembered ominous feelings were more cautious in the future and therefore less inclined to be eaten by lions and tigers and bears. (Oh my.) In psychology this is known as a negativity bias. This means that, even if children, if something does not go our way, we are more inclined to misrepresent our negativity throughout our lives.
Consider the number of times your child has asked for a cookie before eating, you say no and they quickly come back: "You never let me have anything I want!" Science suggests that their brains remember the negative memories of being refused candy, while forgetting all the times that you gave them what they asked for. That is just evolution for you.
There are, however, ways to train your brain and your child's to balance the natural predisposition to negativity.
Research has shown that people experience and remember negative emotions with a magnitude of about five times that of positive emotions. This means that for each negative experience we need five positive emotions to balance the feelings. There are also theories that suggest that negative emotions are controlled by a different hemisphere of the brain than positive emotions, which can cause people to excessively analyze negative experiences.
And it is logical that if children are five times more inclined to remember negative events, they naturally feel like a nasty parent who never lets them eat cookies for dinner. So what can we do to acknowledge and remember the disadvantaged positive feelings?
To begin with, we celebrate everything. And we train our children to do the same.
Celebrating small achievements is one of the most effective ways to strengthen positive feelings and increase overall happiness. We simply make the good memories more accessible. Children also learn through modeling, so every time they see us remembering something good, it trains them to find positive moments in their own lives. Of course, it does not have to mean that every time we think of putting the garbage out, we give a lavish party if we do not burn dinner or get a nice price. There is only so much champagne that we can gain daily before we are without money and brain cells.
The goal is to deceive our brains to form stronger associations with good feelings to give them a boost in competing with negative experiences. Tangible memories such as posting notes on a & # 39; successful wall & # 39; or keeping a diary with good things that take place every day can strengthen the memories. It is a simple repetition. Children who are too young to read and write can sing a festive song. Even taking a moment to enjoy the good things every day can help us protect against only the negative things in our lives.
It's about forming new habits. Every form of behavioral change takes time and effort because we essentially create new paths in our brains. The older and more set in our negative ways, the more difficult and uncomfortable it can be to make positive changes. But the human brain is easy to fool. Even if you just go through the motions of celebrating, smile or force a laugh, your brain reacts by releasing the same chemicals and, over time, producing the same beneficial effects as if those feelings were real. In other words, distort it until you make it.
And parents, we can do our children a great favor by helping them to shape these habits when their brains are new and pliable. Young children have exponentially more neurons and paths than adults. They are ready to learn about the world and are actively engaged in shaping patterns as they develop into adolescence and shorten neural connections. Would not it be great if we did not have to remind ourselves of the small pleasures in life as adults? If it was only a second nature?
Celebrating and commemorating the time that nothing goes wrong is a gift that we can give our children, and it can increase their overall happiness throughout their lives.
So, choose your favorite party word, pat yourself on the back, jump up and down, pump your fist in the air. To sing. Dance. Look like a fool and laugh at yourself. Do everything necessary to remind your brain that life is sometimes not that bad. Every day is your birthday, as the Mad Hatter said.
Do it for yourself. Do it for your children. And do it for them.
Widdicks is a former cognitive psychologist, freelance writer and writer. Her debut novel & # 39; A Mutual Addiction & # 39; will appear in January. Read more marywiddicks.com. You can find her on Twitter @MaryWiddicks.
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