Happy Is Healthy

Hi there, it’s Dr. Jocko again, with some more monkey medical words of advice. First word of advice…I’m a monkey. So, if you have an actual medical problem, please go see a doctor that is not covered in fur.

Today, I want to talk about something that’s important to everyone, something we all try to achieve, and something that’s very important for your child’s health…happiness. There is a strong correlation between a child’s mental state and their overall health.  One study found:

Communities that have made an investment in the happiness of children may be encouraged to find that this also may extend to children’s health.   (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447731/)

Another study found that amongst adults:

A sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/)

But, there also seems to be a link to children’s behaviors as well:

Children who are able to stay focused on a task and have a more positive outlook at age 7 report better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.

So, the important question to ask, how do we provide children with the tools to achieve happiness Here’s a great blog post summing up ten scientifically proven steps to help raise happy children:

  1. Get Happy Yourself
  2. Teach Them to Build Relationships
  3. Expect Effort, Not Perfection
  4. Teach Optimisim
  5. Teach Emotional Intelligence
  6. Form Happiness Habits
  7. Teach Self-Discipline
  8. More Playtime
  9. Rig Their Environment for Happiness
  10. Eat Dinner Together                             (http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2014/02/happy-kids/)

There’s also a link between exercise and happiness:

Scientists found that the more physically active the middle-schoolers were, the less likely they were to suffer symptoms of depression, such as anxiety and fatigue.  (https://www.pritikin.com/your-health/healthy-living/getting-fit/1066-depression-a-exercise-an-active-child-may-be-a-happier-child.html)

So, get your kids off the couch, off their screens and out into the whole wide world to have some active fun!  Here’s a video to help get them motivated.

Another way to help kids, and adults, achieve happiness is through the practice of mindfulness, or meditation.  Here are some great tips to help teach this practice to children:

1. Breath is the anchor – All people who practice and teach meditation know that the breath is the starting and finishing point for all types of meditation. We carry our breath with us in every moment, therefore it becomes our anchor, helps us to focus on the moment rather than be distracted by our thoughts. Children can learn this too – that simply noticing their breath, how their chest rises and falls with the breath, helps them to be in the moment (or if they are younger, getting them to touch with their chest/tummy to notice the breath). In that moment, your child is in their breath and nowhere else. If you do the same, then you are both anchored in that moment together.
 
2. Learn to let go – Teaching meditation to children is about learning that it is a personal journey for them and you. Children do not always respond in the way we want them to, and meditation is no different. We can guide them on how to sit, close their eyes and so on, but if they do not want to close their eyes, then do not force them. Give them something to look at (on the floor if they are seated or on the ceiling if they are lying down). Ask them to relax their gaze by trying to see out the sides of their eyes (it uses the peripheral vision which helps to relax the brain).
 
3. Use your imagination – Adults spend a lot of time thinking rationally and analytically, so it can be useful to blow some fresh air through the cobwebs of our imagination! Let’s use our imaginations to create a safe, beautiful place and describe this to children, so that in their imagination they can join us and feel safe, peaceful and curious in that place with us. There is usually no end to our children’s imaginations, so we can let them show us how to use ours.
 
4. Prepare and be patient – There are many ways or approaches to mindfulness and meditation, but there should be no end “goal.” Set an intention for you and your children, but try not to become attached to it. Instead, let go and let your own curiosity enjoy and notice what you observe. If your children are restless, notice this and perhaps guide them to have more contact with the ground, but sometimes we have to let go and just allow their energy to find their own balance. Sitting still may not come naturally at first, but with some red cushions (good for grounding restless energy) underneath their feet or their body, it will come.
 
5. Practice as you teach – Teaching meditation is a two-way street. We do not just teach, we learn, too. As you are teaching meditation to your children and you ask them to notice their breath, notice their body and relax their body, you can join in as you ask them to do this. This makes teaching meditation a very valuable experience for all.

But, most of all, pay attention to your kids. Give them your focus, your love, and the most valuable asset of all…your time. That email can wait, your child’s happiness can’t. Play with them. Talk to them. And, most importantly, laugh with them.

Children model what we teach them. So, do your best to be happy yourself and recognize the joy that these little people bring into your lives. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the day, it’s always worth it.

Thanks for reading and until next time, be like a banana and peel better!