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Happiness is a Skill Kids Can Learn & Practice

A parent’s job is to teach their kids life skills. Skills such as self care, how to read and write, what to do in an emergency, tying their shoes or how to play an instrument or sport. 

But can parents also teach their kids happiness?

Many people think of happiness as a matter of innate personality traits (such as temperament, cheerfulness and outlook) and life circumstances. Basically, if you have a positive attitude and you catch a couple of lucky breaks in life you’ll be happy. Conversely, if you go through a series of external challenges and are more of a “glass half empty” person, you’ll be miserable. 

But, as it turns out, happiness comes down to a set of skills you can teach to your kids and help them practice until they become routine habits.

Why Teach Happiness

In short, the happier we are, the more successful we become.

Research has long shown that happy people are more successful across a multitude of life domains:

Happy people are also better able to multitask and endure boredom and are more creative, trusting and helpful.Teaching happiness to kids has protected students against the decline in self satisfaction, satisfaction with friends and positive emotions that are typically reported by kids starting their middle school years.

In other words, teaching happiness is one of the best things you can do to set your kids up for success in both the short and long term.

The RULER Framework for Teaching Happiness

As you can likely tell, “RULER” is an acronym for five skills that can be taught and practiced to increase happiness:

  • Recognizing emotions: How am I feeling right now? Physical cues such as posture, energy levels, breathing and heart rate, can help children identify what emotions they’re feeling throughout the day and how their feelings have affected their interactions with others.
  • Understanding the causes of emotions: What happened that led me to feel this way? Figuring out possible causes behind feelings can help kids anticipate and manage uncomfortable feelings and help them consciously embrace things that lead feels we want to foster.
  • Labeling emotions accurately: What words best describe how I’m feeling right now? Both adults and children have access to more than 2,000 words in the English language that can describe emotions. However, most of us stick to a limited vocabulary (“good”, “fine”, “sad”, “mad”, etc.). Cultivating a rich emotional vocabulary allows children to pinpoint and communicate exactly how they’re feeling.
  • Expressing emotions appropriately: How can I express myself in this time and place? Explaining to kids what we are doing and why when it comes to expressing our feelings gives them models they can follow when they express their own emotions at home, with friends or at school.

Regulating emotions: How do I continue feeling emotions I want to feel or shift my feelings if I’m not? Strategies to manage emotions both in the moment and in the long term are critical to overall happiness.

Tools and Activities that Teach Happiness

In addition to modeling behaviors and actions that demonstrate the RULER framework in action, parents, teachers and other adults can promote emotional intelligence and happiness skills through activities and games.

Mood meters

The mood meter is a simple and concrete tool that helps shift conversations about feelings away from the rote “good” or “fine” to more nuanced responses like “curious”, “excited”, “scared” or “confident”.

Mood meters have two axes: 

  • The horizontal axis represents how pleasant or “good” it feels to experience this emotion. The far left represents the least pleasant you can imagine feeling and the far right represents the most pleasant. 
  • The vertical axis represents how much physical energy we feel while experiencing an emotion. The bottom of the range represents feeling drained of all energy, as if you can hardly move. The top of the axis represents feeling essentially the maximum amount of energy possible in your body.

When plotted out, these axes form 4 color-coded quadrants

  • Red: The top left quadrant containing high-energy and unpleasant feelings
  • Yellow: The top right quadrant represents energetic and pleasant emotions
  • Blue: The bottom left quadrant is made up of unpleasant feelings that rob us of physical energy
  • Green: The bottom right quadrant has higher energy and more pleasant emotions

Image by: Solutions for a Better Day

By using the mood meter, kids learn how to recognize their emotions based on what they’re feeling physically and emotionally. 

As children learn to use the mood meter they learn more and more feelings words to describe emotions that fall into each quadrant, helping them to label their emotions with more nuance and depth than before. 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the mood meter tool is that it teaches kids that there are no “good” or “bad” feelings.

There are feelings that are more pleasant or energizing than others, but all emotions are valid and ok to feel. And for less pleasant feelings, they can use the mood meter to recognize, understand and label those feelings and use that information to better express and respond to those feelings.

Read-alouds

Read-alouds activities involve reading a story or scenario and then having children discuss and answer questions about the characters thoughts and emotions over the course of the narrative. These stories can be anywhere from just a few paragraphs for younger kids, all the way up to full chapter books as they get older. 

Read-Aloud Sample Questions
RecognizeWhat is the character feeling in this moment? How do you know they’re feeling that way?
UnderstandWhat happened in the story to make the character feel this way? What makes you feel this way in real life?
LabelWhere would this character’s feeling fall on the mood meter? What color would you give this feeling?
ExpressWhat did the character do or how did they act when they felt this emotion? What else do people do with they feel this way?
RegulateWhat could the character do to help them feel something more pleasant? What do you do when you feel this way? What would you do for a friend who was feeling this way?

For younger kids, pairing a read-aloud with the mood meter helps them practice applying emotional intelligence to the story’s character in a context with which they are familiar and experienced. 

Printing out pictures of characters from the story and moving them around a mood meter as their feelings change helps kids better prepare to deal with their own range of emotions.

Read-alouds are great activities to expand children’s knowledge of feelings and introduce them to new vocabulary for expressing their emotions. Parents and teachers can choose specific stories that are relevant to certain vocabulary they want to teach. 

A story about a visit to the dentist can be used to teach words like “nervous”, “anxious” or “confident”.

Sharing personal experiences with emotions

Parents and teachers can share short and simple stories about a life experience and describe the emotions they felt during this experience. Hearing about the feelings and experiences of adults helps children understand helpful ways to express and regulate their emotions. 

By openly talking about their own feelings and describing how those emotions looked and felt and how they expressed them, parents and teachers can foster an environment where children feel safe and supported in sharing their own feelings. 

Like a read-aloud, personal stories should involve a discussion surrounding your feelings and actions. 

Conclusion

Parents, teachers and other caregivers can help children develop and practice the skill of happiness through a whole slew of games and activities. Embedding the RULER framework and tools such as mood meters and read-alouds, we can help kids develop the EQ foundation necessary for lasting happiness. 

Whichever tools and activities you use, what matters is taking the time to help kids recognize and understand their emotions so they can express them in an appropriate and constructive manner. 

By taking these few, simple steps, you can boost you children’s EQ and help better prepare them for long-term successful outcomes in all facets of their life.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Take This EQ Self-Assessment

1-Self-Awareness

  • What are my thoughts and feelings?
  • What causes those thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully?

2-Self-Management

  • What different responses can I have to an event?
  • How can I respond to an event as constructively as possible?

3-Social Awareness

  • How can I better understand other people’s thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do?

4-Relationship Skills

  • How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well?
  • How can I communicate my expectations to other people?
  • How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me?

5-Responsible Decision Making

  • What consequences will my actions have on me and others?
  • How do my choices align with my values?
  • How can I solve problems creatively?
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12 Crucial Facts About Emotional Intelligence

  1. Schools that implement comprehensive SEL as basic curriculum see all the good markers go up. These include improvements in engagement in learning, higher test scores (by an average of 11 points or 20%), responsible behaviors, healthy emotional states and quality relationships with others.  Also in: clarity of thinking, good decision making, creativity,  communications skills, empathy, student self-confidence, and teacher and students satisfaction.  Learn more.
  2. These same schools see all negative markers decline, often dramatically. These include violence, bullying, racial and class bias, drug usage, suicides, acting-out behaviors, teacher abuse, screen addiction, low attendance and low graduation and college rates. Learn more.
  3. EQ skills dissolve, in children and adults, their alienation, inability to process anger, emotional suffering, violence and abusiveness – and blocks to learning. 
  4. Nothing in the human toolbox has been proven to uplift children, schools and youth mental health better. When children develop emotional intelligence (EQ) they problem solve and help each other. They reinforce each other’s learning and relate to other people with understanding and empathy. They resolve conflicts and establish and maintain positive relationships and high academic results. And they are much happier.
  5. The earlier children learn EQ skills and mindset the better. Children can start to be taught EQ at home from birth. A study of 4-year old preschool children found that 25 years later their lives in almost every dimension were in considerably better shape than those of a similar control group that lacked EQ training in pre-school. Learn more.
  6. Neuroscience research helps explain and validates a child’s improvements in behavior, performance, brain function and emotional life.  Learn more.
  7. Research reveals EQ is more relevant than IQ to personal success, quality lives, health and happiness – and to positive outcomes for communities and workplaces. See the Harvard Business Review case study (subscription required).
  8. Well into adulthood, EQ-trained students experience significantly lower rates of mental and physical health issues, crime, conflict, hard drug usage, racial biases,  and welfare and poverty than populations that do not experience the training, lowering the cost of government and employer remedial programs. Learn more
  9. Most violence, crime, rape, child sexual and other abuse and human conflict and racism  stems for low EQ. Learn more.
  10. Only 10-15% of pre-K-12  U.S. schools (public, private and charter) implement full-on social-emotional learning curriculum. The reason is that 90% of parents and the public don’t even know SEL exists – hence little to no calls on schools and legislators to prioritize and fund it.
  11. Long-term studies show on net balance that SEL saves $11 to $15 per pupil in remedial costs over the costs of implementing it.  Learn more.
  12. Many employers are already providing adult social and emotional skills training for employees. Lots more employers – it’s becoming a wave now – are putting high EQ at the top of their hiring qualities because higher EQ throughout the workplace demonstrably produces better productivity, more profits and happier workplace with higher retention rates. Learn more.

(Image courtesy of PikRepo)

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Huffington Post Delivers New EQ Package

This recent Huffington Post article speaks for itself:

Our kids have had an exceptionally bad hand dealt to them the past few months. They’ve been separated from their entire social structure, their classrooms and all sense of normalcy. And parents have certainly struggled (to put it mildly) to keep up. So how can parents use this time at home ― whatever that looks like ― to teach their children other important life skills and foster their emotional intelligence?

HuffPo answers that question with a package of resources.

One part of the package outlines seven habits of highly emotionally intelligent kids. Those habits include

  • Fluency with emotions, theirs and others
  • Perspective taking
  • Gratitude

The package includes links to other relevant HuffPo articles kids’ emotional intelligence.

Also, don’t miss the gallery of 35 children’s books that teach empathy and kindness.

Read the full article

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The Connection Between Business Success, Mindfulness, and Emotional Intelligence

Our ability to pay attention is a finite resource. By instinct, we tune out anything that isn’t either food or a threat. Even our field of visual attention is usually limited to what is currently and immediately in front of our noses. Want proof of our limited attention? Watch master pickpocket Apollo Robbins at work. If our attention is so scarce, how do we even make it through life?

With such a scarce resource as attention, we must spend it wisely. Business leaders and coaches love to talk about focused attention. At the drop of a mouse, you can find online articles about being more focused at work from publications like Forbes, Business Insider, Men’s Journal, and Lifehack. Using your attention to focus more on the job should mean your productivity goes up and mistakes go down.

But focusing intently also means you are less aware of the environment around you and the bigger picture. People might joke about “the vision thing” but seeing connections between people, events, and concepts is crucial to innovation and success. And wider awareness can keep your pockets from being picked.

Joe Stafura, CEO of Thrive, frames focus and awareness as two ends of a spectrum. The more you focus on a specific item, the less aware you can be of multiple things around you. Conversely, the more things around you that you are aware of, the less you can focus on any particular item.

Matching your balance of focus and awareness to the task at hand is what Stafura calls Mindfulness. Thrive’s ability to help people strike the proper Mindfulness for a given situation is achieved through the Thrive Program’s structure as an ongoing conversation. The conversation involves the stakeholders who reveal what they really feel is important over time. This happens more easily during a conversation than an interrogation in the moment or trying to recall in the moment.

By allowing everyone the space and time to consider the various factors influencing the situation, everyone can see what others are concerned about and start to see hidden problems and possible solutions. The micro-message format of Thrive helps keep the conversation going, ensuring high retention and lower survey fatigue. Each participant spends just a couple of minutes to update their views, with no travel time or Zoom calls.

So, it’s not just focusing your attention that leads to success. Shifting the balance of focus and awareness to meet various demand throughout the day is key to performance at work, at home, and throughout life.

Managing your attention doesn’t just happen. It is a skill. Training your emotional intelligence or EQ is a great way to acquire this skill. EQ training builds self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. Within these competencies are competencies such as

  • Recognizing emotional states such as bored or distracted
  • Managing impulses
  • Setting goals
  • Organizing tasks
  • Identifying problems
  • Understanding different perspectives

Teaching these skills in schools helps kids be more mindful in learning. It also helps them be more mindful after the graduate and join the workforce. So it’s no wonder that both Apollo Robbins and Joe Stafura count major companies, nonprofits, and government agencies among their clients. They’re all looking for more mindful ways to pay attention. 

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Jay Levin on Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

BigEQ Executive Director Jay Levin was recently interviewed by leadership blogger Adam Mendler.

The interview covered many topics. Below are excerpts pertaining to leadership and emotional intelligence.


Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and your advice. First things first, though, what is the Big EQ Campaign all about? How did you come up with the vision and what do you hope to achieve? 

Jay: When I was young, I was fascinated by the question of why do humans do the painful things to each other we do and have so much emotional pain in life. Life seemed to be full of pain, conflict, disappointment, heartbreak, and depression. Couldn’t we do better? How come society could often be so dysfunctional – and could it be changed for the better?

As a young journalist, I followed these questions into covering the human development movement. That work taught me that people need two kinds of skills to live a successful and positive life. One skill is the ability to transform your own and other’s emotional and mental reactiveness. The other skill is creating more caring ways of relating to yourself and others–and life itself–no matter the circumstances.

Raising emotional intelligence is the key to a loving and peaceful world – and it can and must be learned if this species has any chance of survival in the nuclear age and when we seem on the verge of potential ecocide. The easiest definition of EQ is the ability to manage yourself, your emotions, your career and all your relationships with others in a caring and productive way. Manage your entire life this way.

Adam: How can CEOs and executives become more emotionally intelligent leaders? What are tangible steps they can take? 

Jay: The first, most important tangible step is deep and honest self-reflection and caring about how you affect others. If your workplace is not collegial and a warm cooperative atmosphere with loyal productive employees and based on healthy relationships,  you need to look in the mirror and take a deep self-reflective account of yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and ask those around you what they need from you and the changes they would like to see. Then find yourself an excellent executive coach whose focus includes empathy training. At a minimum, go take a course in non-violent or compassionate communications. 

The start of emotional intelligence is acknowledging the dysfunction you might be triggering for others and that you developed along the way, understanding how you are wounded and when you are not authentic. Then you can start addressing how that impacts your relationship with yourself and with your colleagues. 

Basically it is about healthy relationships. I highly recommend Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Who’s Got Your Back” to every CEO who doesn’t already prioritize healthy relationships and hasn’t yet acquired the skills to manifest them.

Adam: More broadly speaking, what are your best lessons in leadership? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

Jay: The best leaders understand that they are in service to the people around them with whom they share a common purpose or vision. Letting go of the ego of leadership, and the underlying fear of having to deliver success single handedly, helps leaders and aspiring leaders to unlock the collective, collaborative power of the organization to achieve what a single person can’t. After all, that should be why we work together in the first place. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? Who are the best leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them? 

Jay: Often, people are given the title of leader in an organization because they excel at execution, getting things done. No one tells them that leaders are those who get things done by working with and through other people, by building the organization that gets things done. That’s a completely different skill set than being proficient in your own personal, professional capacity. Building the organization doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and being a good doer doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a good builder. 

Adam: What makes a great executive coach? What are your best tips for fellow coaches? 

Jay: Here’s what I would look for in a coach, and what I try to provide to others: A person who who straight talks with you AND at the same time is your biggest cheerleader because he/she really gets you. Someone who can show you the big picture so your view of the world and yourself is larger and your thinking is corrected. 

A great coach is a skills trainer, not a judge. You feel safe learning that your limitations are only a product of bad training and societal misthinking which you have been inoculated into, So the coach makes you feel like a happy learner rather than an asshole. Someone who presents as your best ally, maybe even as a best friend, because he or she is easy to be with and who is naturally caring and interesting.

Someone who can guide you out of stress and into a higher level of functionality.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Jay: Follow your strengths. When I needed a break from journalism and media, I signed up for a master’s degree program in spiritual psychology. It was a continuation of those burning questions from childhood about why we do what we do. The advice, the message that I got from that program, was to follow my strengths. In the program, I discovered that I had a surprising-to-me natural gift for coaching, so much so that other students started asking to come to my home to work with me. I said yes to the adventure that my strengths were revealing to me and within a year, with no promotion by me, I was seeing 25 clients a week, all via word of mouth.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

Jay: If everyone grew their emotional intelligence and shared that intelligence with those around them, that would build a more supportive, sustainable, and happy world for those who come after us. It is for me the single best way to pay it forward. Again, if we keep child development in the old paradigm then we constantly recreate a world that has nukes pointed at all our heads. Emotional intelligence in its broadest sense is the best tool humanity has to evolve itself into a survivable paradigm. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Jay: Sure: Everybody could memorize two thoughts. First, the world is an effect and the cause is how we learn to be with ourselves and others. Second, almost all life’s stress and pain–personal and social and in our communities–derives from lack of EQ and relational skills, not from bad character.