Hardwired for Happiness

It’s true; our brains are actually hardwired for happiness and empathy.  They also love to practice gratitude; every time we take a moment to be grateful, our brain gives all the cells in our body the gift of peacefulness.  It’s that simple.

Whenever I feel sadness or fear trying to creep in, I know I have to take action before those feelings get the chance to anchor themselves in my heart and mind.  The easiest and fastest step I can take to protect myself is to start naming the many things for which I am grateful.  The more I reflect on gratitude, the calmer and safer I feel.  And then of course, the next easiest thing to do is breathe–just breathe.  I close my eyes and inhale from down deep in my belly, hold it for a second or two and then exhale slowly through my mouth. This simple gift I give to myself makes me feel powerful, safe, protected and in control of this moment.  This is all I have really–this moment, this breath, this genuine feeling of gratitude and I know I am okay and I can do it again and again.


Another Tragic School Shooting in Nevada…

Bullying is not new; it’s been around for as long as most folks can remember.  What is somewhat new however, is what appears to be an emerging trend with which victims of bullying find solutions to their ordeals through suicide and/or murder. Scholarly psychology papers claim that victims of bullying are more likely to demonstrate aggression and in recent years, studies suggest that teenage shooters have been victims of bullying. (http://www.sozialpsychologie.uni-frankfurt.de/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Leary-et-al.-2003.pdf.)

Many schools have some sort of anti-bullying program, but how effective have they been in reducing the incidence of bullying, empowering victims, and changing the behavior of bullies? According to a recent study by criminologist Seokjin Jeong, at University of Texas at Arlington, these programs have not only not been helpful but some anti-bullying programs actually make the problem worse because they teach bullies new and more effective ways to hurt victims! (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57606812/are-anti-bullying-efforts-making-it-worse/)

More and more experts in the field are saying we have been misinformed about the nature of bullies and what to do about them and that at least a dozen myths and misconceptions still abound. Rachel Simmons, cofounder of the Girls Leadership Institute and author of Odd Girl Out,  explains that bullies generally do not possess low self-esteem as was originally thought but instead are confident, powerful, popular, and adept at terrorizing others.  She states,  “Bullies are talented chameleons. The most psychologically aggressive kids are usually the ones who cop angelic poses when adults walk into the room (Eddie Haskell, anyone?). These kids possess high social intelligence. The same skills that enable them to hurt their peers are precisely what allow them to manipulate adults.” (http://mag.newsweek.com/2010/10/14/the-nine-most-common-myths-about-bullying.)

So, if traditional anti-bullying programs are not helping and we have misunderstood the true nature of bullies–then what is the solution?

In my book, Empathy Warriors, I describe how I was tormented and excluded as a teenager and the resulting isolation and depression I endured because of it.  I was, in fact, alone with no support from family, teachers, or friends.  Because of my own personal experience being victimized, I believe that what schools need is a profound shift in the emotional, social climate of the entire school environment from Pre-K all the way through 12th grade.  Inclusive of every breathing human being in the school environment, empathy must preside over all relationships and behaviors. Social and emotional learning must be taught systematically from Pre-K to Grade12 students, teachers, parents, administrators and all staff on campus.  This school wide shift into empathy can only occur successfully when everyone is on board with a policy that honors authentic emotions, respects multiple perspectives, and practices empathy in all situations, at all times, with everyone.

Social and emotional intelligence can be taught and learned; it’s the right choice for all schools today.

One Mindful Breath and Your Brain Cells Will Benefit!

A myriad things that we are barely aware of can trigger us and a darkened veil can suddenly descend over our joyful spirit; we feel the shift into darkness yet we don’t know what caused it.  It is in these moments of feeling the transition toward the negative that we must act to protect ourselves from allowing a dark mood to control us.

The moment our mood begins to shift, we must remind ourselves that we have the power, choice, and ability to remove the veil and step back into the light.

Breathe; it sounds so simple yet we resist it.  It takes less than ten seconds to complete one focused, deep-belly breath; why talk ourselves out of doing it?  Even just one mindful inhalation and exhalation will begin the shift back to peace and calm.

Breathe; you deserve ten seconds of peace.   Breathe again; you deserve another ten seconds!  Between each breath, say to yourself, “I deserve peace; I deserve calm.”

As you breathe mindfully, every cell of your body is rejuvenating and the cells that benefit the fastest are your brains cells controlling your moods.

Your brain prefers joy, peace, and calm so breathe–and give your brain what it desires most.

Why Do We Need Social and Emotional Learning?

For generations, schools worldwide have distinguished themselves by their students’ academic achievements.  As emphasis on high test scores preponderates, attention to the social and emotional development and well being of learners tends to get marginalized. The result of this phenomenon?  Worldwide, we are currently experiencing the highest incidence of teenage depression on record and teenage suicide is becoming alarmingly more common as a solution to bullying and other social issues!  As young people in every country spend more time on electronic social media, their opportunities to look directly into the eyes of their peers are shrinking and their social skills are plummeting.  Put simply; young people lack the emotional intelligence skills to identify and manage their emotions productively. Schools are failing to successfully provide the urgently needed social/emotional learning programs students require to flourish on all levels: academic, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual.

It’s not just our youth who suffer, but parents and teachers as well.  Our species tends to be living longer–but not necessarily happier or more productively.

The good news, and it’s very good news, is that everyone, regardless of age or gender, has the capacity to fully develop their emotional intelligence and become happier, more confident, more productive, and more in charge of their lives simply by experiencing a systematic social and emotional learning program!

Dr. Haim Ginott: Unsurpassed in Parenting with Empathy

In  the mid-1960’s there were only a few widely viewed daytime talk shows and Haim Ginott frequently appeared on them because of his revolutionary approach to honoring children’s emotions in a respectful manner that maintained their self-esteem.  His book, Between Parent and Child, published in 1965, became one of the best selling parenting books ever written, selling millions of copies; it is as pertinent and useful today as it was then.  Although I have read many parenting books, I’ve never found one to be as valuable as Between Parent and Child.  Haim Ginott provided the groundwork in the 60’s, upon which many other psychologists developed their own humanistic and empathetic communication techniques.

As a teenager, I listened to Dr. Ginott explain how parents should speak to children and his words resonated with me so profoundly, that they ultimately formed the core of my own educational philosophy and practice which has been in place for over forty years.  Today, my own training organization, Empathy Warriors, is, based upon Haim Ginott’s fundamental beliefs about how to talk and listen to children, and I blended those with the most current best practices in brain research.

Dr. Ginott’s unique style of communication with children and teenagers provided an entirely new perspective parents could easily use to observe and interact with their children more effectively to forge more intimate and respectful bonds with them. Decades before neuroscientists started producing evidence-based findings about the nature of the human brain and its functions, Haim Ginott was educating parents and teachers in what appeared, at the time, to be just simple, down to earth, common sense approaches to dealing effectively and humanely with children.  Today, neuroscience is continually and progressively revealing and confirming Dr. Ginott’s theories to be founded in factual evidence regarding how the human brain is hardwired.

Check out the following website and listen to some of Dr. Ginott’s television interviews:


http://www.betweenparentandchild.com/index.php?s=content&p=video_1 (focuses on how to protect children’s feelings)
http://www.betweenparentandchild.com/index.php?s=content&p=video_4 (explains how to give children their wish in fantasy)
http://www.betweenparentandchild.com/index.php?s=content&p=video_2 (explains how to express your anger without insults)