Cultivating Happiness

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An introduction

Recently several teachers and myself attended a wonderful conference in San Francisco called Learning and the Brain.  This particular brain conference focused on social-emotional learning and what we know about the brain.  Self-regulation, cultivating happiness, and attention were large pieces of interest.

The process of cultivating happiness in children isn’t as elusive as once thought.  What we know is that people who are happy have four key elements.  These are having a growth mindset, a sense of gratitude, living in and embracing a culture of kindness, and having self-discipline. 

Although, many people would agree these are wonderful traits to have in a social context what I find most intriguing is their impact on brain development.  Children’s brains have great plasticity.  Their brains are changing and growing and are very malleable at this young age.  David Walsh says, “the neurons that fire together, wire together.”  Simply speaking, the repeated connections we make create long lasting effects in brain development.  If we help children’s neurons fire with these four elements in mind, their brains are going to create a tendency to do be this way as they age. 

Mental health professionals have known for years about this phenomenon but have never given it such specificity.  We know that when a brain is traumatized it “rewires” itself.  Part of trauma work is getting the brain to wire itself back into a more calm state of existence.  People who have experienced trauma are more hyper-vigilant and have a higher sensitivity to environmental stimulus.  We know that people who have long histories of depression have a tendency to think depressively and we work to rewrite the cognitive tapes they tell themselves.  With enough practice the depressed individual can think more positively. 

Therefore, the link can be made that the four elements of having a growth mindset, feeling gratitude, embracing a culture of kindness, and having self-discipline can greatly effect brain development.  Having these neurons firing together and making connections can make a more functional and hopefully happier adult.   Stay tuned for more details about each of the four elements in the coming Crier J