21 Days to a Happier Lens

It all started way back in the summer of 2013. I was home with my teenage son, who was serially watching TED talks on his computer. From the kitchen, I overheard an engaging man speaking about Positive Psychology. “Wait!! Hold up!!,” I shouted, “Please restart that from the beginning!”. I had never heard of Positive Psychology. The ideas were intriguing and, for me, life changing.

The speaker’s name was Shawn Achor. He is an alumnus of Harvard University who has taught a class called “The Happiness Class”. Yes…he teaches a class on happiness to Harvard students.

Happiness is something we all want. Happiness is something that we all wish for ourselves, and especially for our children. But what can we do about making happiness a habit? Isn’t happiness just something that happens out of our control? Something you are or aren’t? How can we teach happiness?

Mr. Achor’s theory is that happiness is something we can achieve by doing, something we can actively pursue, something our brain can learn. We can change our brain through practice. We can make ourselves be happier by using our brain’s neuroplasticity (i.e. the ability of the brain to change and reorganize in response to behavior, memory, development, learning, and environmental influences) to our advantage.

Most people I know base their happiness on their achievements and rewards; that kind of happiness is often fleeting, though, or off in the distance. Perhaps we are happy… for a while. It is something that comes over us, but is it a general state of being? Could we achieve more in our lives if we started from a place of happiness rather than a place of chasing happiness? These are all questions asked and answered in Mr. Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage.

The idea of doing something to become happier intrigued me. I had been working with my clients for years to change the way they think in order to change their emotional response to events and thus their actions. But this idea was new. I have been thinking about Mr. Achor’s ideas and applying some of them to my own life. I have even begun sharing them with clients in therapy sessions. His ideas about happiness are very accessible for people of all age groups, and I’d like to share them with you, too!

Here’s the idea… It takes 21 days to change a habit. Can we make happiness into a habit? Let’s try!

For 21 days do these 5 things, every day, and I guarantee YOU WILL BE HAPPIER!

  1. At the end of each day think of three things for which you are grateful or appreciative. Three different things for each of the 21 days!
  2. Write a journal entry about a positive event that happened to you that day.
  3. Exercise at least 10 minutes per day. Exercise helps to change neurotransmitters and alter your mindset.
  4. Meditate at least 10 minutes per day. Meditation is a great way to clear your mind of its preoccupations, eliminating any stress and anxiety that builds up throughout the day.
  5. Do one conscious random act of kindness each day. This does not have to be something difficult, make it an easy thing to fit into your day.

TIPS:

  • For me, it helped me stick to the exercise by emailing my #1’s and #2’s to a friend.
  • For me, after Day 10 I had a HARD TIME coming up with three different things I was grateful for EVERY DAY, and when I had a bad day, I had a hard time coming up with a positive story. But this challenge FORCED ME to search for things throughout my day that were positive stories and for things to be grateful for or appreciative of, and thus changed the lens through which I saw the world.
  • For me, this exercise was life changing.
  • I have taught this to 5 year olds and 75 year olds, and everyone likes it!
  • “Can I draw a picture of the positive story?  I don’t like to write,” asked one 9-year-old client. “Of course you can!”
  • The same client asked, “Can I bounce a ball against the wall when I meditate? It helps me clear my mind.” “If your Mom lets you, of course you can!”

Make these exercises fun and light!

Change your habits. Change your lens!

By Cindy Feder

Addressing Anxiety with Creative Arts Therapies

What is Anxiety?

Everyone has experienced a situation where they have felt stress, worry, or nervous – unsure of the outcome of a given situation, discomfort in a new environment, or fear of the unknown. To many people, brief moments of anxiety, or episodes of uncertainty are not something that needs to be examined by a medical professional, but to some children and adults, anxiety interferes with daily life.

For children, anxiety is associated with hyper-arousal (‘flight or fight response’) and with behavioral and verbal inhibition. Children with anxiety disorders show deficits in their ability to communicate their emotions to other people. Creative arts therapies (dance, music, and art) are recommended for children with anxiety due to their direct and at times, non-verbal, approach to perception, expression, and regulation of emotions, as well as the motivational and engaging nature of the therapies.

Creative Arts Therapies may take the form of individual or group therapies. Many children with anxiety may start in individual therapy in order to build a trusting relationship with the therapist and become familiar with the environment. The goal for many children with anxiety is not only to work on increasing self expression and decreasing feelings of anxiety, but also to feel comfortable in social settings.

In Music Therapy, children use musical play to express and regulate emotions, listen to specific relaxation music to regulate their psychophysical hyperarousal and stress level, and begin to communicate their feelings to other people (Goldbeck, L., Ellerkamp, T., 2012). Music therapists lead engaging songs and instrument playing activities, based on the interests of each individual. Music has the ability to trigger various emotions in all people, so identification and expression of emotions from ‘happy’ or ‘scared’, to ‘sad’ or ‘excited’ is a common goal of music therapy sessions. For example, a child may work on a song writing activity that discusses something ‘happy’ – such as a birthday. The therapist may then facilitate the song writing to develop a scenario about a birthday party, which may be a trigger for social anxiety. After the song is written, the child may be encouraged to find various instruments to demonstrate various parts of the song. The tambourine might represent the excitement of waking up on your birthday and opening presents, while the drum might represent the loud and overwhelming sounds of a crowd at a party. The child has now musically expressed various emotions and the music therapist can build discussion or future experiences from that point, dependent on the individual’s needs and abilities.

In Dance/Movement Therapy, individuals with anxiety can develop a heightened awareness of themselves, their emotions, and how to manage their physiologic responses to anxiety producing situations. The mind may over-analyze anxiety producing situations, and the body may respond with muscle tension, headaches and heightened blood pressure. Therefore, dance and movement exercises addressing anxiety may include: Relaxation Visualization exercises to increase body awareness, release emotional tension, and gain an effective coping strategy (Bourne 2005) and Mindfulness to help accept the current situation, foster patience and interrupt anxiety thinking (Foxman, 2007).
A dance/movement therapy session will incorporate role-play frequently throughout the activities. A child will develop individual ideas and creativity, while the therapist facilitates the use of non-verbal gestures, facial expressions, and interactions. Specific anxiety producing scenarios can be acted out and then re-played in various forms in order to work on developing and practicing coping strategies.

Art Therapy provides opportunities in self-expression, development of coping strategies, and improved self-regulation. In addition, art therapy opens the door for deeper communication into anxiety producing situations by first encouraging the child to engage in an art –making experience without using any verbal interaction, encouraging the creativity, and then finally processing verbally with the therapist. The art therapist will be aware of the use of various colors, force, and space within a creation and will then analyze the meanings behind this non-verbal expression in future experiences or conversations. Many art therapists also encourage daily ‘art’ journals, as an alternative to a written journal, which may be more motivating for a child.

Further Reading
Bourne, E. (2005). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook Fourth Edition. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Foxman, P. (2007). Dancing with Fear. CA: Hunter House Publishers.
Goldbeck, L., Ellerkamp, T. (2012). A Randomized controlled trial of multimodal music therapy for children with anxiety disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 49(4), 395-413.

By Kathleen Nace