This week I had the honor of speaking with my mentor, Helen Maffini, and the host of the World Happiness Festival, Orla O’Sullivan. The festival is put on by an organization called Wake Up Schools. Since we are all in different countries around the world, we spoke on zoom, and it was an informal discussion about mindfulness and whether mindfulness can make us happy, the impact of social media on our every day happiness, and why teaching mindfulness in schools is important. I shared my thoughts from a teenage perspective.
Can mindfulness make us happy? I think it helps lead to happiness, but there are other things that help too, like a sense of purpose, playing a sport, family support, and some good friends. Mindfulness helps me if I’m feeling sad or upset or overwhelmed. It helps get me focused on the present instead of yesterday or tomorrow so I’m not as anxious or depressed. And it helps me to get the negative loop out of my head and start focusing more on positive things. These tools don’t automatically make you happy, but I think they help you navigate the ups and downs of life better. But it takes practice, every day, so that when I get stressed, I already know how to implement the tools that I need.
Does social media play a roll in happiness? I deleted social media from my phone. At first it was hard because I was addicted, like all teens. I’m still on my phone a lot because I text, but at least I’m not constantly scrolling for hours or taking a picture of my chin or the side of my eye. When I’m teaching I explain that it’s like when you see your friends hanging out without you, you get sad, and feel left out, and when you see the great trips they go on and the amazing happy lives (a lot of which is just manufactured for social media and not true) you feel like well why can’t I go on those trips, and maybe compare yourself, and that doesn’t make you feel good either. My screen time went down by about half, and yes, I do feel freer, and I feel like I communicate better because I look up more, which makes me happier. I don’t tell kids that they have to get off of social media, and I’m not saying that I’ll never go back on social media, but for now, this is what I want to do.
Is teaching mindfulness in school important? Yes, it’s a goal of mine to get these programs into our education system K-12 because I think the students are learning to be less stressed, and I am hoping that the statistics of self-harm and harm to others goes down. It’s like a circle because if the teachers are less stressed, then the kids are less stressed, then the parents are less stressed. If we teach kids when they are young then hopefully they will grow up healthier and happier adults who can solve their problems in more productive ways. We’re really trying to get more KAME (Kids Association for Mindfulness in Education) clubs into schools. They are student run interest based clubs where kids learn mindfulness, and figure out how to get the programs into their schools to share with the other kids.
What’s a favorite practice that you like to do or teach? I like to go to the golf range and listen to music. That helps me to relax and focus. With the little kids, we have the Wuf Shanti character and play a lot of fun games, so they don’t really know that they are learning. When I teach teens in person, I usually teach a humanity practice or a self-care practice. I think the kids like those a lot. We are teaching diversity and inclusion, which leads to compassion and empathy. We ask the kids to look into their partner’s eyes, notice the differences (the shape of the nose, the mouth, the complexion, the color of the skin, etc) and then we ask them to notice the similarities (you both have a body, a mind, a heart; you both have experienced joy and sadness, pain and fear, etc). Then we ask them to close their eyes, put their hand over their heart, and wish their partner peace and love. Another practice we like to do is to tell the kids imagine a movie theater and the screen has the things that stress them out on it. Watch as those items disappear one at a time until the screen is blank. And then deliberately add things that make you happy onto the screen (it can be family, friends, a sport, music, a hobby, whatever). Self-care is so important because it leads to self-compassion, self-love, and self-worth. These are things that can stop violence to ourselves or others, and the violence needs to stop now. That’s why it’s so important to start teaching mindful practices, self-awareness, and self-regulation in schools.
You can watch my interview on The World Happiness Festival 2020 on the UN International Day of Happiness on 20 March. The theme for 2020 is Happier Together. To sign up for the World Happiness Festival, hosted by Wake Up Schools, click here: