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A Day in the Life

Well-Being 1 March

One of the joys and challenges of counselling is that there is always more to learn and therefore, there’s often material to share with others.

There are so many self-help books around now that finding something genuinely helpful can feel like panning for gold, but there is great stuff out there. I hit lucky with a book I found second-hand in Oxfam ‘The Little Pocket Book of Happiness’ by Lois Blyth. It looks lightweight and frothy but is actually a very accessible summary of the neuroscience and positive psychology behind our experience of happiness.

Have you ever considered what behaviours are almost bound to make you unhappy? I’m not talking the big and obvious here – more the insidious habits that have become automatic - things you’d struggle to pinpoint but are deeply undermining of joy. I was impressed with my little book’s cogent summary. I’ve read reams about what we should do (unsurprisingly – you’d expect positive psychologists to focus on the positive!) but little about what we shouldn’t do. It’s not rocket science, just common sense really, so these are the behaviours I will be aiming to avoid:

Reproachfulness: beating myself up, playing the victim or the martyr, blaming someone or something else – from the weather to the state of the world!

Regret: wallowing, if only..., I’ve let myself/my colleagues/the teachers/the dog down, I should have...

Anxiety: what if...? Catastrophising and imagining the worst possible outcome.

Self-defeating behaviour: any sort of addiction, binging/unrealistic dieting, skimping on food, over-spending, over-working, sleep deprivation, letting health and fitness slip.

Becoming isolated: not maintaining family relationships and friendships, being ‘too busy’ to spend leisure time with others, spending all leisure time alone in front of a screen of some sort.

As the school counsellor, it is perhaps unsurprising that most of the boys I see will display some of this sort of behaviour. Sadly, some will be doing something from every category and will have virtually lost sight of what it feels like to be happy.

What can you do to help?

  • First, model healthy behaviour yourself. Young people learn from example and you are the closest models they have. ‘Do as I say but not as I do’ doesn’t work – you have to ‘do’ the behaviour you want to see in your children. As Ghandhi famously said: ‘Become the change you want to see in the world.’
  • Secondly, nip any of the above behaviour in the bud. Challenge negativity and keep boundaries strong. Find a reasonable balance with phones – teenagers need time holed up in their rooms – that’s not ‘Becoming Isolated’. But if your child is withdrawing completely, refusing to spend any time with family and never seems to go out with friends or have them over, appearing to live almost exclusively in a virtual world, that’s more problematic. It’s important to watch for the slippage from the healthy state to the unhealthy and to intervene. For modern teenagers, their phones are an integral part of their lives, as vital to them as an arm or a leg – but when it’s bedtime, they need them no longer and it’s important to take them away. The more parents do that, the less boys can pull the ‘But everybody else’s parents lets them have their phone at night’ gambit.
  • Finally, stay positive about your child and about the future. I have lost count of the number of boys who have told me they are worried that they will let their parents down and/or that they won’t get a good job or have anywhere decent to live. The challenges of the future may be great but being negative about it won’t help. As we repeatedly suggest to the boys in Mindfulness classes:

The past is history, the future is mystery. All we have is now and it’s a gift. That’s why we call it the present.