I just finished the Positive Psychology course by Martin Seligman at University of Pennsylvania. One of the topics he talks about is optimism and pessimism. A study showed that 8 to 11 year old pessimists were twice as likely to get depressed in puberty. Although we often lean one way or the other on the optimism scale, he wondered if we taught positive interventions to children, would it have an effect?
Positive education programs were implemented in Bhutan, Mexico and Peru. Skills taught included mindfulness, critical thinking, decision making, communication, creative thinking, empathy, problem solving, interpersonal relationships, resilience and self-awareness.
The Bhutan project included 8000 students, the project in Mexico involved 700,000 students and the project in Peru was implemented with 1 million students. There was a significant increase in well-being in all three groups. They stopped the program and retested 15 months later and saw the same level of well-being so it was not just a ‘honeymoon effect.’ They found the students had better physical health, decreased absenteeism, a higher satisfaction with school and lower dropout rates after the program was completed.
Well-being is something that can be learned and is sustainable. If we have the tools.
Resilience is so important to well-being as we have to embrace the fact that we will fail, we won’t know everything, and we will grow from each mistake. Students who don’t believe this will fill their minds with stories about not being smart enough, good enough or strong enough.
Psychologist and author Angela Duckworth followed the students who take part in the National Spelling Bee. One million children register for the contest and 168 make it to the finals in Washington D.C. For two years running she measured IQ, grit and self-discipline in those 168 finalists. The top four students both years had nothing to do with IQ scores. They were very high in grit and self-discipline. In falling and rising. In never giving up.
How can we implement positivity in our school systems and into the lives of our youth? How can we remind them that they may be a fish trying to climb a tree? It doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough, but they have to get back in the water and swim. Critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and social intelligence are the skills needed to find success and happiness. How can we cultivate those skills in our young people? If positivity can be taught, and if it is a game-changer, how can we change the game to make sure it is a priority?