);
1-250-514-8459 tamara@posminds.com
Why Kindness Matters

Why Kindness Matters

 

According to positive psychology pioneers Martin Seligman and David Petersen in their book Character Strengths and Virtueskindness refers to “doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.” Kindness can be broken into two main categories:

  1. Being kind
  2. Receiving kindness from others

Often we prioritize the being and focus less on the receiving. Let’s break both apart. What constitutes a true act of kindness? “Acts of kindness focus on promoting positive outcomes for others rather than for oneself.”according to researchers Trew and Alden.

Biologically humans needed social instincts like kindness to:

  • Enhance group cohesion and bonding
  • Help us act as caregivers
  • Keep us safe from other tribes
  • Increase our experience of Positive Emotions
  • Relax our facial expressions (we smile more, our faces soften)
  • Neural firing pathways (begin thinking down the same lines)
  • Heart rhythm (heart rates slow and begin to match each other)

 

According to Dacher Keltner in his book Born to Be Good. Kindness enables us to work together as a tribe. It’s innate. Yet just because something is innate doesn’t mean we always do it. ​Kindness can be both caught and taught. It involves nature AND nurture.  ​

So while we may initially experience intrinsic motivation to do something, it still requires environmental supports.  Most children begin to hear about kindness as one of their first lessons in a school setting. Kindness includes manners, fairness, generosity, turn-taking and words of praise or gratitude.

 

Neuroscientist Jamil Jaki from Stanford has developed a ten-week experiment “Becoming Kinder” exploring generosity, goodwill, and empathy. Designed as an empathy gym with ‘kindness challenges like

  • Reverse the golden rule
  • Spend Kindly
  • Disagree better
  • Kind Tech
  • Be a Culture Builder

that are specifically designed to encourage individuals to step out of their comfort zones in the name of being kind.

Another common kindess practice is a random act of kindness.  According to the Greater Good Science Center there is actually an optimal dosage for random acts of kindess-  5 acts of kindness in one day.

One of the benefits of kindness according to psychologist John Gottman who has been researching couples in his “Love Lab” at the University of Washington for over 4 decades is better relationships. His obsession involves understanding what factors predict a successful relationship. Over decades he has interviewed hundreds of newlyweds with one goal, to see them argue. When Gottman observes a couple argue he can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will stay together and be happy, stay together unhappily or split up.  What it comes down to is kindness and generosity. “Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger, but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger.”

Being kind to yourself, self-compassion, is also incredibly important to wellbeing, People who treat themselves kindly feel more empathic concern, they are more altruistic, they feel more connected to the world around them and they feeling more socially connected (especially in the teen years).

The Giving

Kindness can be as simple as a smile and using someone’s name in conversation. When you make eye contact and use people’s names you elicit oxytocin production. This small act of kindness increases wellbeing.

Kindness can also be a grand gesture like the ones told on the podcast Kind World such as carrying a baby for a sibling or crossing the border multiple times a week to deliver water, food, and lessons to children seeking asylum.

Try these simple ways to activate kindness:

  • Listen
  • Smile
  • Use someone’s name
  • Hold a door for someone
  • Pick up litter
  • Let someone into your lane while driving
  • Pay for the order behind you in the drive-thru
  • Take a neighbor’s garbage bins to and from the curb
  • Compliment someone
  • Clean up after yourself
  • Send a “thinking of you” text
  • Remind someone of a positive shared past experience
  • Include someone new on a social outing
  • Let someone who wants to help you, help
  • Don’t offer advice unless asked
  • Share silence with someone
  • Engage in random acts of kindness
  • Engage in kind acts that are not random at all

 

 

The Receiving

If you are like most people, you probably find it easier to be kind than to be on the receiving act of a kind act. Indications that this is true include deflecting compliments or not accepting gratitude. Sometimes receiving kindness and compassion can feel threatening, as though the one being kind is somehow superior. If you notice you have trouble receiving gifts, compliments, or acts of generosity and love, spend some time reflecting on why. Who taught you to behave this way or modeled this behavior? Many people have adopted this learned behavior as a way of being humble. If someone gives you a compliment, not receiving it stops its power for both the giver and the receiver.

 

*originally written for the Institute of Positive Education

 

 

“Education is What’s Left When They Forget Everything You Taught Them”

“Education is What’s Left When They Forget Everything You Taught Them”

I wish these were my words. They came from Mark Turner, the new head of my sons’ school. They are the words that convinced me he is awesome.

He was talking to parents at our school and explaining that after students have forgotten the history of Canadian pioneers and the Pythagorean theorem, the lessons we sometimes call soft skills will be what remains. These are the parts of education that are truly important to a student’s success and happiness.

This lesson was reinforced when we held a research event on campus at Geelong Grammar School that included 2 current grade 12 students and 2 students in their 3rd year of university. When asked about their experience of Positive Education classes at the school all four agreed that despite moments of resistance (that included eye-rolls and groans about gratitude letters and mindfulness)  they all use what they learned in “Pos Ed class” every single day.

One of the great challenges in the field of Positive Education is telling people what it is in a simple sentence. I often find myself saying “it’s difficult to define and easy to do”. This video from my colleagues at Flourish Dx is a really good beginning! It talks about empowering people to be mentally healthy. “Beacuse mentally healthy workplaces work better” Take a peek…

Want to learn more about increasing wellbeing at home, at school or at work? Contact me.

Did You Know You Can Measure Wellbeing?

Did You Know You Can Measure Wellbeing?

The world has become data driven. If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter. But for those working in fields like mental health, education, human resources and psychology, there hasn’t been a clear way to measure both the strengths and weaknesses of either an individual or an organization. Of course there are clinical resources like the DSM-5, PANAS, DASS, and Kessler-10, but these were all designed for clinical or research settings. And none of these measured wellbeing in a way that allowed proactive intervention.

But now, there is an evidence-based measurement (and intervention!) tool that works.

For Schools- FAS (Flourishing at School)

The FAS software platform includes the Flourishing Profile survey. This 62 item measure is a leading indicator of mental health, useful for proactive wellbeing interventions at both an individual and collective level. The approach is consistent with the other partnership we have at Positive Minds International the Geelong Grammar School Model for Positive Education (2013).

Instead of seeking to identify those who are “at risk” or already distressed, the Flourishing Profile survey uses a positive psychology approach to assess the degree to which individuals have developed the “pillars” of wellbeing. These pillars are commonly referred to by the acronym “PERMA”, which stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement (or flow), Positive Relationships, Meaningfulness, and Accomplishment. Consistent with Geelong Grammar model, the survey also measures Positive Health (nutrition, exercise, and sleep).

The online survey can be taken in about 15 minutes and enables objective assessment of the success of wellbeing interventions. It can also be used to benchmark wellbeing against whole school, cohort, sex and cohort AND sex specific normative samples. It is suitable for secondary students (ages 11-18+) and staff of all ages. Individual results for students are available to the school administrator in order to inform proactive and insightful pastoral care interactions.

Flourishing at School is more than just a measurement tool. It is a complete solution for wellbeing improvement for students and staff. It includes comprehensive administration instructions, tips on whole-of-school implementation, student specific feedback and wellbeing goal setting features, self-development resources (different resources suitable for student and staff users), and full lesson plans for classroom interventions.

For University Students- Flourish Dx (University)

The current approach to mental health in a collegiate setting is largely reactive, targeting the estimated one in six students who have a diagnosable mental illness (Eisenber et al, 2013). Student counselling services are commonly reported to be struggling to keep up with the demand on their time by distressed students.

FlourishDx allows for data-driven proactive mental health intervention at both an individual and collective level. The smartphone first application (it also is compatible with web/tablet), contains two measures: the Flourish Survey (a short version of the school-based Flourishing Profile survey which includes measures of PERMA+Sleep), and a psycho-social risk factors survey (including common student stressors such as study load, relationships, knowledge of and access to services etc.).

The solution also contains a strong educational component with more than 30 video modules covering a range of topics related to both mental health and sleep health. Students can use their results to identify priorities to maintain or optimize wellbeing, with almost two dozen evidence based activities contained within the app. There is also audio based guided meditations such as mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation to quickly address elevated stress levels.

To keep students engaged in the app, there is a “Mental Fitness” coach bot, that will regularly prompt students to check in and feed them relevant information and resources suitable for their wellbeing needs, and interests.

FlourishDx is a preventative approach to mental health for university students. The goal is to keep individuals well, assist to optimize wellbeing, reduce the load on student counselling services, inform campus-based wellbeing interventions, and increase the likelihood that individuals will seek professional assistance if there is a need.

For Corporations- Flourish Dx (Corporate)

Mental health is a growing concern globally. The World Health Organisation believes that unipolar depression will become the number one cause of the global disease burden by 2030. Positive Minds International is bringing Jason van Schie, People Diagnostix Managing Director, to North America in January 2019 to help spread the word that wellbeing is measurable and impacted by your actions.

“Traditionally mental health has been focused on the identification and treatment of illness. However, this is akin to only dealing with heart disease once someone has had a stroke. Like physical health, more needs to be done on prevention if we expect to see reductions on mental illness prevalence, and its burden on individuals, families and the broader community”.

FlourishDx allows for data-driven proactive mental health intervention at both an individual and corporation/department level. The smartphone first application (it also is compatible with web/tablet), contains two measures: the Flourish Survey (a short version of the school-based Flourishing Profile survey which includes measures of PERMA+Sleep), and a Work Design survey (including common workplaces stressors such as workload, role clarity, autonomy, support, justice etc.).

The solution also contains three eLearning programs covering important topics including mental health, sleep health, and fatigue risk management. These can be pushed and monitored by the FlourishDx workplace administrator as well as being explored by employees on an as needs basis”,

Employees can use their Flourish Profile survey results to identify priorities to maintain or optimize wellbeing, with almost two dozen evidence based activities contained within the app. There is also audio based guided meditations such as mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation to quickly address elevated stress levels.

To keep individuals engaged in the app, there is a “Mental Fitness” coach bot, that will regularly prompt workers to check in and feed them relevant information and resources suitable for their wellbeing needs, and interests.

FlourishDx is a preventative approach to mental health for workers The goal is to keep individuals well, assist to optimize wellbeing, inform workplace-wide and departmental mental health interventions, and increase the likelihood that individuals will seek professional assistance if there is a need.

 

 

 

Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J. & Speer, N. 2013. Mental health in American colleges and universities: variation across student subgroups and across campuses. J Nerv Ment Dis, 201, 60-7.

 

 

The 40% Rule

The 40% Rule

Happiness.

It’s hard to define and even more difficult to measure. Until recently psychologists and researchers wouldn’t even use the word. Instead, terms like subjective well-being or positive emotion were substituted.

You would think that humans could agree that a basic goal of life is to experience more happiness and yet on podcasts, in the media, and in everyday conversation I regularly hear people making statements like “it’s not healthy to be happy all the time” or “creativity is born from discomfort, if I was happy I would lose my edge”.

While it may be true that some people use anger to ignite action I think many people would be surprised by how much more creative, successful, and flourishing their lives might be if they allowed themselves to prioritize positive emotions.

The science of positive psychology explores optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive according to Dr. Martin Seligman. When I think of thriving I include an entire spectrum of positive emotions appropriate to different situations as listed by Barbara Fredrickson in her book Positivity

Her list includes:

Joy

Gratitude

Serenity

Interest

Hope

Pride

Amusement

Inspiration

Awe

Love

The Rule

50%

We know from research that approximately 50% of our potential for happiness lies in our genetics. If your parents were depressed, anxious, or tended to ruminate on the negative, you might inherit this potential. The reverse is also true; if your parents were happy-go-lucky types who see the glass as half-full, you may have a greater natural inclination toward happiness. The chemicals released by our brain when we encounter any stimulus (a large dog jumps out at you barking when you run or you smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies) are not standardized across all people. Some brains are primed to pump out more of the happiness chemicals where others distribute these more sparingly. Some brains have an overly active fight or flight system compared to others. This is the first 50%.

10%

A tenth of your happiness involves life circumstances like having shelter, food, and safety. This does not mean that people born into extreme poverty or living in dangerous situations cannot experience happiness. If you have ever seen children playing in the slums of India or two terminal cancer patients falling in love you know that happiness is possible even in extreme situations however there is an impact on the ease of experiencing happiness that accounts for about 10%.

40%

What’s exciting about the research is the 40%. This bit of happiness potential is entirely up to YOU. It is impacted by the thoughts you think, the people you surround yourself with, the food you eat, and the beliefs you choose. Taking regular time to reflect, to incorporate happiness-boosting activities like gratitude, mindfulness, and even smiling more into your day can change this number.

 

Image from The Happiness Reset by Tamara Lechner (forthcoming)

I think of happiness as being in constant motion. It’s like a spiral. At any time yours is either spiraling upward or downward. The trick to using your 40% to it’s greatest potential is this:

  1. Learn to recognize when you start a downward spiral.
  2. Have a toolkit of simple things you can do at that moment to turn your spiral around.
  3. Spend more time trending up than spiraling down.

It’s quite simple really. It takes effort that is conscious and consistent at first, but eventually, it becomes second nature like driving a car or riding a bike.

What do you do to turn your downward spiral around? Happiness increases when your share so please comment with any useful habits or tips you might offer.

 

 

 

 

 

The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

We’re hearing more about the positive traits of empathy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is becoming more important than other intelligences (like IQ) at school at work and in life.  In past generations these two words might both have fallen into the category of sympathy but empathy, sympathy, and compassion are not words that can be used interchangeably and one of these three is more powerful than the other two.
Empathy refers to feeling what another person is feeling. Sympathy means you understand what the other person is feeling even without feeling it yourself. Compassion means your feelings have prompted you to take action to relieve the suffering of another person.
Scientists have shown that mirror neurons, a part of the brain whose specific job is to have us mirror what’s happening with someone else, play a big role in both empathy and compassion. When you see someone smile these neurons prompt you to smile back. When you witness someone in pain it can cause you the same type of pain too. Having empathy is your ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Sympathy happens when you may not on a visceral level experience the sadness or pain that someone else is feeling but on the cognitive level you understand the feelings of another. I’m not sad when my friend’s old dog passes away but I can understand that my friend feels sadness.  Both empathy and sympathy are more about the person experiencing them than they are about the person who sparked the empathy or sympathy.
Compassion on the other hand comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer with”. When you are compassionate you are able to be aware of another’s suffering you have sympathetic concern to the level that you have been emotionally moved by their suffering then you wish to relieve that suffering and you act somehow in a way that is helpful.
Mathieu Richard, a  french Buddhist monk says “compassion is unconditional love applied to the suffering of others”. His belief is that compassion has a powerful ability to heal; both to the one giving and to the receiver.
An important distinction between empathy and compassion is the effect on your personal well-being. Empathy and sympathy are both self-oriented. They say “I’m hurt too” and have you join the suffering or acknowledge that you see the suffering. Interestingly, research is showing that narcissists may have deficit in their mirror neuron receptors. Not only are they unable to mirror the emotional experience of another but they exhibit frustration when someone doesn’t mirror their emotional state. This is been referred to as a narcissistic rage. Of course very few people are diagnosably narcissistic but it seems empathy and sympathy are more about the individual wanting to be seen as a kind and understanding person than they are about  actually being kind and understanding. Empathy and sympathy alone are not enough. Empathy pulls you down where compassion lifts you.
Experiencing empathetic burnout or empathy fatigue is common among people who spend their lives caring for others such as nurses or first responders.  In the United States, a study has shown that 60% of the medical profession suffers or has suffered from burnout, and that a third has been affected to the point of having to suspend their activities temporarily.By the prolonged experience of feeling what others feel they actually burn out and become more anxious, depressed and stressed out.  Compassion on the other hand doesn’t burn you out it, lifts you up.
Research shows that compassion and empathy take place in different parts of the brain and that by turning your empathy into compassion you can fight empathetic distress. The key difference lies in what you do after feeling the feelings evoked by mirror neurons. If you act, you lift yourself and others. If you get stuck in the emotion without positive action, you pull yourself down. The Greater Good Science Center has a quiz to measure how empathetic you are. I suggest you take it to see how much you are recognizing the emotions of others. The second and more important part is turning that empathy into compassion through useful action. See the bottom of the article for tips on how to do this.
Set up a free account to save your quiz scores and track your progress over time.

Change Your Empathy and Sympathy into Compassion

1. Notice the feelings

2. Ask yourself how you can help. This doesn’t mean changing everything. What small step could you take to make the situation better?

3. Take action while staying in touch with your emotional barometer. If you are too emotionally overwhelmed start with a loving kindness meditation. This type of meditation is proven to increase well-being while decreasing empathetic fatigue.

 

If you’ve moved from empathy to compassion, I’d love to hear how you did it and what the results were. By sharing your story you inspire others to make positive change.

Don’t Mess With Happiness- What Happens When the World’s Top Positive Education Experts Meet in Texas?

Don’t Mess With Happiness- What Happens When the World’s Top Positive Education Experts Meet in Texas?

Imagine what can happen when you bring together 1200 stakeholders in the positive education field including academics, educators, students, parents, lawyers, policy-makers, and psychologists all with the common purpose of making a quantum leap in the ways positive education impacts academics and well-being globally.

The World Positive Education Accelerator is an IPEN event that just might change the world! With so many mike-drops it was difficult to choose but here are my top 10 aha moments from this four day appreciative inquiry summit.

1. “We are expecting our children to change the world and we aren’t giving them the skills to do it.” Champlain University President Don Laackman discussed how a radically pragmatic approach is needed in rethinking  how we educate.  To make our world a place, where children and learners of all ages can thrive, he suggested that connecting professional success with life’s purpose was one of the keys.

2. “We need to change our deficit oriented way of looking at the mental health of students.” In her keynote Lea Waters suggested  parents and educators need help to see and build strengths in children. When this happens it protects children against depression and anxiety, it increases self-confidence and life satisfaction, it buffers stress and anxiety, and it enhances self-efficacy. She included a reminder that it is our responsibility to educate not just children but also their parents about the strength-based approach.

3. “!t’s happiness stupid!” was Sir Anthony Seldon‘s  reminder to us to distinguish happiness from pleasure. Selden discussed the fourth education revolution pointing out that under the factory model of school we are not interested in who children are. that we are stronger together when we embrace the unknown, when we say goodbye to our binary ways of thinking, and when we get out of our own ways,

4. “Well-being is skill-based and learnable” according to Alejandro Adler. Investing in teacher well-being creates classrooms with a system of well-being which translates to advanced academic well-being, more pro-social behavior, and better health. His reminder that this begins with the educator was a key point.

5. “Optimism is the belief that our actions matteraccording to Amy Blankson who spoke on the intersection of education and technology. Blankson implored us to become balanced technology users learning to love technology and live with it not to escape from it. Recognizing that the average smartphone user checks 150 times a day is the first step, the is second putting the phone away. She shared that the mere presence of a phone is a happiness zapper. The power of a potential dopamine hit keeps us addicted and distracted while our brain is partially focused on the task at hand and partially waiting for additional content that is released every time we see notifications on our phone. This reward system is highly addictive we need to delete the temptations minimize notifications .
She reminded us with a great visual but our concerns are not new they are just different her for rules embrace a growth mindset about technology minimize distracting technology teach self-awareness set healthy boundaries to gather invisible boundaries until kids can self regulate

6. ” I believe wealth is not meant to create more wealth. Wealth is meant to create well-being.” Martin Seligman asked us to think about what are we going to do with human prosperity? Together Seligman and David Cooperrider envisioned new opportunities and possibilities for accelerating positive education.

7. “The best person in the class to up the connection of curiosity is the student” according to Angela Duckworth who has launched a character lab at UPenn designed to help use psychological sciences to help people thrive. She uses the heart, mind, will. method of seeing strengths.

  • heart to give to and receive from others
  • mind to think imagining create
  • will to achieve your goals through optimism growth mindset and grit

Her lab hopes to answer the question is character born or earned? Using the science of goal-setting to help increase your results, Duckworth suggests her WOOP model in creating a path to a goal:

  1. wish for something
  2. identify and imagine outcomes
  3. identify and imagine obstacles
  4. form a plan

8. “Progress not perfection”  says David Cooperrider who compared planning to a jazz improvisation.  Cooperrider said the world of leadership design is about legacy; it’s not just crazy creative it’s also detailed execution.  To avoid constraints or see opportunities and to get more creative using the core question “how might we…?” to begin a conversation designed to creatively solve the problems of the world. He also sees a need to remove the barriers that keep students from moving forward and staying curious and joyful.

9. “The heliotropic principle reminds us that we move towards things that give us life” we need to activate the motivation of our children said Jacklyn Wong. Speaking from her personal experience of using positive education to transform Singapore as a city. “It’s the essence not the architecture that’s the difference between a house and a home. ” Wong is one of the keys to changing the way an organization uses positive psychology to give leaders, teams and individuals the tools-the house, but they need to make it a home themselves.

10. “To prepare young people for a changing world, we need to support them in their self-discovery and awareness and increase their empathy.” President of Universidad Tecmilenio, Hector Escamilla spoke passionately about 29 campuses across Mexico who redesigned their process to start from purpose. When education is connected to what matters to a student they go farther faster.