Teenage happiness

Dear Rachel

“I’m struggling with depression and feeling happy in my day to day life.  Please give me some helpful hints on how to create a more happy life for myself.”

For my daily work supporting parents in corporates, I have spent a lot of time reading up on the psychology of happiness be that for adults or teens.

Sadly there appears to be an ‘unhappiness’ epidemic going on and depression rates are ten times higher than they were in 1960.  The age threshold of unhappiness is also getting lower. Fifty years ago the average age for the onset of depression was 29.5 years old.  Today it is almost half at 14 years old.

The first thing teens should do is try to define and understand what ‘happiness’ means to them, as it is incredibly personal. With the pressures of school work and social expectations (worrying about what others think of you and FOMO) teens often have the mistaken belief that if you work really hard, get good grades, are in the right social crowd, have the material possessions you desire, only then will you be happy.  In fact spending your life trying to achieve in all areas, often results in us feeling stressed and sad.

It actually works the other way round.  We become more successful in all areas of life when we are happier and more positive, as opposed to thinking we will be happy once we are successful.

Some top tips to nurture happiness.

  1. I have read countless studies which conclude that social interaction is the best prescription for happiness. One of the longest running psychological studies of all times is the ‘Harvard Men Study’ following Harvard students from the late 1930s through to the present day. 70 years of evidence concluded that our relationships with people matter more than anything else in the world. In a ‘Very Happy People’ study again the one characteristic amongst the happiest 10% was the strength of their social relationships.
  2. The thing to really stress here is that social interaction means being present, making eye contact and interpreting each other’s non-verbal cues.  This is entirely different to having 1000+ followers on Instagram, 185 likes for one post or keeping up 40 daily streaks on Snapchat.  The trouble is that time with family and friends may be the first thing to go. When you are unhappy, you are far more likely to withdraw and not feel like making an effort socially.  The more social support you have, the happier you will feel.
  3. Practice gratitude. Every day write in a diary or share with your family, 3 things you are grateful for.  It could be as simple as the sun was shining, there was no fish for lunch at school or you finally grasped a hard concept in maths. The more gratitude you feel and verbalise, the more you will get into the habit of noticing what there is to be grateful for and the happier you will feel.
  4. Be aware that you and only you are responsible for your own happiness. You can’t blame others for “making” you unhappy or rely on other people or things to make you happy.  Whilst you can’t obviously control everything that happens to you, you can choose what you think and feel about the things that happen.  It is your deep thoughts that drive your feelings and in turn your actions.  If a person is pessimistic when bad things happen, they feel bad and permanently negative. Optimists see negative events as only temporary and due to outside factors.
  5. How we feel is totally dependent on our mindset. Each person’s reality is based on their perception and understanding of the world. Practice positivity.
  6. Pursue things that you really enjoy, that you are good at and are meaningful to give your life purpose.  Everyone whatever age they are needs to try and find a strength or something they are passionate about and can feel truly engaged and lose track of time.  That may be a sport, playing an instrument, volunteering, reading, cooking, doing magic tricks. Anything that gives you real pleasure.
  7. Even at difficult times with lots going on, schedule something in your diary that you can really look forward to.
  8. Any form of exercise releases endorphins and helps to improve your mood.
  9. Meditation is very popular at the moment and to be honest not something I have much experience of but I know it works for others and helps to develop the pre -frontal cortex which is the part of the brain most responsible for happiness.
  10. I love this concept of a ‘Healthy mind platter’ from Dr Dan Siegel.

Balance in all these areas is key for a healthy mind.

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