It was "Human Body and Health" time with my French students. Between the games, songs and role plays I had prepared, we were having a blast.
That's when I decided to take our "health talk" a tidbit further, and added the following "mental health" questions to our lesson on "the French names of body parts". I asked the kids whether their happiness was located inside or outside of them. When we reached a consensus for "inside" (i.e, we choose to be happy, as opposed to waiting for others to make us happy), I asked them to specify: where exactly do you feel your happiness?
Some said "Mon bonheur est dans mon coeur" (My happiness is in my heart). Some said "Mon bonheur est dans ma tête" (My happiness is in my head). Some said "Mon bonheur est dans mon sourire" (My happiness is in my smile). But then one of my youngest pupils added "Mon bonheur est dans mon aisselle" (My happiness is in my armpit). Not quite sure what to make of it, I smiled (part of my happiness is in that smile for sure), and asked her what she meant. She explained "When people tickle my armpits, it makes me laugh, and laughing is happiness".
Awww. Youthful insight. How I love it.
I was really into this reflection on the origin of happiness, especially because of two reactions I had recently witnessed in children I know well.
One kid got very upset because another kid had received more "I speak French" stars than him. The upset kid, however, had a lot of stars himself as he usually participates actively to my lessons. I couldn't help but ask him why he was focusing on this other kid's stars instead of focusing on his own, which were numerous. I also talked briefly about "rejoicing over other people's successes".
Another kid got upset after hearing a peer mention her Advent calendar. The upset kid said it was mean to mention the Advent calendar in front of her, who does not have any. Since there had been no bragging, I asked what about it was "mean". I also reminded the upset kid that she might not have an Advent calendar with tiny chocolates in it, she still has something: someone gave her 24 actual presents to open, 1 for each day leading to Christmas. Why was she adamant that this other girl was luckier than herself remains a mystery.
I thought it was a little bit sad that those kids would focus on what they don't have instead of focusing on what they do have. Hopefully, their point of view will change by hanging out with positive people!
Those two events were a good reminder that the angle of focus is often all that it takes to either make us happy... or miserable. In children just as in adults, it seems, some see the glass half-empty, and some see the glass half-full.The good news is that we can each work on our outlook, to make it more positive. The idea is simple: we have to cultivate gratitude.
Gratitude has been shown to bring about a plethora of good things, including lower blood pressure, less pains and aches, better sleep... as well as less food cravings (for more on this, click here).
The problem, some of you might say, is that there are few things to be grateful about. Well... think again: the reasons to be grateful are right in front of you! I stumbled upon a wonderful reminder of that today. It made it clear that we each have a list of things to be grateful for... if only we stopped taking them for granted. Here are some examples of the "19 signs you're doing better than you think" (article from marcandangel.com - click here for the whole thing):
- You are alive.
- You are able to see the sunrise and the sunset.
- You are able to hear birds sing and waves crash.
- You can walk outside and feel the breeze through your hair and the sun’s warmth on your skin.
- You have tasted the sweetness of chocolate cake.
- You didn’t go to sleep hungry last night.
- You awoke this morning with a roof over your head.
- You have overcome some considerable obstacles, and you have learned and survived.
- You have a friend or relative who misses you and looks forward to your next visit.
- You have access to clean drinking water.
And when this doesn't seem to be enough... well you still have a choice. Go and create your own happiness. Make some changes in your life, if you dare! I, for example, like to come up with new goals and challenges, because they make me feel more alive. My latest one, following D's suggestion, is to train for a "Spartan Race". Now that's exciting!
Gratitude - and in turn happiness - is a choice. What do you choose to focus on?