International Day of Happiness falls on Wednesday 20th March. It is recognised around the world to highlight the importance of well-being and happiness for people all across the globe.

If I were to ask you as you’re reading this right now how you would rate your current levels of happiness out of ten, what would it be? What about if you were to ask your children?

Chances are you can either remember a time when you’ve been happier or, if you’re feeling those happy vibes today, you’ll know the feeling can feel fleeting.

And that’s just it. Happiness can come and go and what might make someone happy will be different for another. As the well-known saying goes, “happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life.” Here at the Youth Fairy, we know how true this is, for when we can change the way we think, we can change the way we feel – for the better.

Happiness is…

The things that make us happy are many and varied. Sometimes it can feel like happiness is something that is marketed. How many times have we heard a child (or an adult for that matter) say “if only I could do/be/have… THEN I’d be happy” and yet we know that once we have that allusive item/outcome we are looking for the next thing. There is a saying (one that is sometimes credited to Theodore Roosevelt) which refers to comparison being the thief of joy (or happiness). If that was true in the late 1800s, then how much more so is it true today.

In the current media driven world of influencers, reels and Tik Tok, our young people are constantly being ‘advised’ as to what they ‘need’ to be happy – the latest phone, the newest trainers, the £30+ water bottle (Air Up) or the new ‘must have’ coconut water drink that had many queuing at supermarkets for new stock. That might seem to be the answer to “how can I be happy?” but what do we know about happiness? Besides, with a focus on things, our children seem to stray farther away from practising gratitude about what have already.

There are many books now on happiness, on being happy, on finding joy. The Harvard nearly 80-year study clearly indicates that it’s not from the things we have but from the relationships we develop and the community we live in that brings us happiness.

The Neuroscience

Our brains, and in particular teenager’s brains, are adapting and changing and laying down new neuropathways. These pathways, although numerous, are not limitless and so the brain carries out neuropruning (a bit of neuro gardening) to ensure our brains are working most effectively. The brain considers what is being repeated (as well as the desire and effort associated with the events) and makes a judgement that these things are important and that is these neuropathways that should be watered and given space to grow and mature. Whereas the ones that we are neglecting are free to be pruned.  The brain doesn’t recognise which of these are good (or bad) for us, just which we are using or not using.  Hebb’s Law refers to this and says that “neurons that fire together, wire together”.

We know that positive habits create more of the neurotransmitter serotonin which helps us to be happier and calmer and helps us to cope better with stress and anxiety. In developing healthy, ‘serotonin making’ habits, (especially in the teenage years when our brain is at its most effective at laying down and cultivating new pathways), we can in fact become more practised at being happy. And as we become more expert in being happy, we become even happier. Happiness does create more happiness, which is why it’s important for our children to develop mindfulness skills, practise gratitude and show kindness.

Happy Habits – Be Mindful, Be Grateful, Be Kind

Here are some easy, serotonin boosting, happy habits that you can support your children and teens (and yourself) in cultivating happiness.  We come back to the 3Ps that we often refer to – Positive Interactions (through family, friendships, relationships and community), Positive Actions and Positive Thoughts.

  •         Grow more flowers – this is a great way for children to develop mindfulness skills and ground themselves. Spending time in nature increases serotonin but actually here we are referring to flowers in your brain (figuratively). If we think of the brain as a garden (which is pruned) we want to encourage the brain to grow more flowers (the positive/helpful habits) than weeds (the negative/unhelpful habits).
  •         Identify the flowers – so what are the flowers for your children? It can be helpful to spend time identifying what these are together, planning these activities in, as well as recognising when they might be added to help balance out a day where too much time was spent growing the weeds (arguing with friends, feeling overwhelmed by exams or homework, etc). These might include:

o   going for a walk (yes, your teenager will benefit for a walk but might be more inclined to go if there is tea and cake at the end of the walk too!)

o   time with friends

o   visiting family

o   quiet time spent reading or doing a creative activity

o   listening to music or playing an instrument

o   participating in a sport

o   practicing gratitude and acts of kindness


The Importance of Mindfulness, Gratitude and Kindness

Remember the brain doesn’t know the difference between the good and the bad but notices where we focus our time and energy. Spending time recalling and appreciating the good from our day is one of our 3Ps (Positive Thoughts). Developing mindfulness skills, cultivating a habit of thankfulness and practising gratitude support our brain in watering those helpful neuropathways. When we work with clients, we always encourage the habit of writing down at least 5 good things from their day and doing this every day, creating one of our helpful habits.

  •         Sleep – it’s a simple one but creating a healthy sleep routine reduces stress and anxiety (emptying out the stress bucket) and in so doing helps us to cope better with any challenges and therefore helps us to be happier.
  •         Reduce screen time – also linked to good sleep habits, reducing the amount of time spent gaming and in social media supports our teenagers in being happier versions of themselves. A recent study found that excessive screen time can lead to decreased grey matter in the brain, which is associated with cognitive function. The use of social media has also been linked to increased levels of depression and anxiety.
  •         Reducing screen time and encouraging more social interactions can help to improve happiness.
  •         Relax, meditate, be mindful – developing mindfulness skills through practices such as relaxation and meditation can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Creating a habit of listening to a relaxation (such as the ones that we provide to our clients) or practising mindfulness (such as using the headspace app) helps to empty the stress bucket and quietens the flight/fight responses from the amygdala in our primitive brain which in turns helps us to be in our intellectual mind where we can make a proper assessment of a situation and helps us to respond in an appropriate and positive way.

This year’s theme for National Happiness Day is “Be Mindful, Be Grateful, Be Kind” – what one small change can you make in your family this week which cultivates greater happiness for you and your children?

Contact The Youth Fairy

At The Youth Fairy, we are a team of experienced solution-focused therapists who work with children to help them become empowered individuals. Schedule a session with your nearest Youth Fairy today to find out more!