The Happiness Connection  

Connecting with the past

Although my ancestors have lived in Canada for many generations, their ancestors came from different parts of Europe.

I have frequently made detours while travelling, in hopes of finding information about them, and seeing where they lived.

A week or so ago, I walked down a muddy track in a remote part of Scotland to stand on the spot where my McLean and Bell fore family lived.

Their village no longer exists, but I felt a sense of peace and satisfaction as I stood on the path they would have walked daily.

While I breathed in the sights, my husband navigated his way through muddy puddles, reached through a wire fence and retrieved a rock from the fallen wall of an old building; a piece of my ancestry to take home.

Why did finding a connection to my family roots make me feel so contented? What does connecting with past have to do with happiness?

Social Connection

Humans are programmed to be social. We are far stronger as part of a group than we are as individuals. To help encourage us to work with others, we are hardwired to seek companionship, and to be accepted as part of the group.

Connection is commonly thought about in terms of the present, who you surrounded by, and what are you doing?

Connection with people in our past also satisfies this biological need to be part of a unit.

I love watching the television series, Who Do You Think You Are? It never ceases to amaze me how the same traits that are displayed by the celebrities today are in evidence many generations earlier.

Being Part of a Bigger Picture

Another reason for finding satisfaction from connecting with your ancestors is the positive feelings you get from seeing yourself as being part of a bigger picture.

Being one drop of water is nowhere near as powerful as being one of many drops. Together those drops can save a life, water crops, or sustain a world.

You are more than just one person in the universe, you are a member of a huge family unit that goes back thousands of years.

I remember seeing a photograph of the double wedding of my two times great aunts, and seeing the same shape and size of eyes that my children and I have.

Seeing my eyes in a person who lived in the 1800s gave me a sense of belonging that was more intense than anything I felt from looking at a census record.

Stepping out of your comfort zone to live in the moment

If your ancestors come from different parts of the world, going to visit their homeland involves stepping away from your everyday life.

I passionately believe that travel broadens the mind.

Experiencing a different culture and environment encourages you to view life in a slightly way; to see the world from a different perspective.

It is always valuable to see how other people live.

Because you are venturing into the unknown, you can’t put yourself on autopilot, like you might in your every-day life. A new environment forces you to live in the moment.

Even if you are in a place that speaks the same language, their expressions and way of doing things are likely to be different.

Try crossing a busy road in England where the cars are on the opposite side of the road to North America. Autopilot crossing is not an option.

Travel encourages living in the moment; connecting with your ancestors gives you a feeling of connections and being part of a bigger picture.

Connection, mindfulness, and being part of a bigger picture are all aspects of the modelling happiness precepts that lead to a greater sense of wellbeing.

If you have any interest in connecting with your roots, enjoy the experience, with the understanding that you are not only learning more about your family, you are also boosting your happiness.


Be yourself bravely

“Don’t air your dirty laundry in front of others.”

“Never argue in front of the children.”

“When a friend asks you how you are, say “great” no matter how bad your life is.”

I used to believe in these statements, but as time goes on, I agree with them less and less.

Rather than portraying the image of a person who has it altogether, I believe it is time we stood up and showed our authentic self to the world, rather than hiding our less desirable traits and pretending we have everything under control.

This is especially true if you haven’t got it all together. You are the most perfect version of you, at this moment.

Does that mean there is no room for improvement? Of course not. There are always lessons to learn and new insights to gain. Your life is a never-ending opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world around you.

With a little effort, you can be a stronger, more aware person today than you were yesterday.

Why do I feel so strongly about the importance of showing the world your authentic self? Because I think it can help make the world a happier place.

You are a work in progress.

You may nod in agreement with that statement, but do you really believe it is true?

Do you become frustrated when you can’t do something right away? Do you want to hide your mistakes from others, in case they think you are substandard?

If you blame others when things go wrong and are hesitant to show your authentic self in case people discover your flaws and shortcomings, you don’t really believe you are a work in progress.

I have seen many examples of this as a teacher. Some students become upset because they don’t know as much as others, or aren’t at the top of their class. They have lost sight of the fact they are there to learn, not to display that they already know it all.

If you already know it all, why spend your time in school?

If you are a life-long learner, you will constantly be getting more knowledgeable, skillful, and wise. Accept that you are a work in progress, not a finished masterpiece.

This way of viewing life will boost your happiness.

It is comforting to know you are not alone.

Studies show that regardless of how bad you are at something, you feel better if there is someone as bad, or even worse than you.

When I was young and watched shows like The Waltons, and The Partridge Family, I compared my family to their fictional ones and realized that mine was lacking. They didn’t seem to hate each other, dream of being an only child, or argue over the chores.

I might not have focused so much on my family’s shortcomings, if I had realized we were like many other families. We weren’t perfect, but we were fairly typical and sprinkled among the less than perfect traits, were many wonderful ones.

Spend your energy learning about yourself, not hiding the real you.

Pretending you are someone you aren’t can be exhausting. Remembering what you want to hide from the world and keeping all the deceptions straight can be incredibly difficult.

Take some weight off your shoulders and be proud of who you are, and be open about the lessons you are learning.

This will not only give you the opportunity to put your energy into positive growth and change, it will allow others to see that they aren’t the only ones who weren’t born perfect.

As long as you recognize your shortcomings and the areas that need some work, it is OK to fall short of where you want to be.

Awareness is the first step toward improvement, so start by becoming aware of the person you want to be, and work towards that.

Try taking time at the end of each day to think about what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. Set an intention for what you want to work on the next day.

Learn to be comfortable with where you are now, but know that with effort you will be a better person tomorrow.

If we all commit to showing the world our authentic self, and continually work on personal development, we will not only boost our own happiness, we will boost the happiness of the world around us.

Let your kid walk to school

Did you walk to school as a child? If you are of a certain age, chances are very good that the answer is yes.

Do you let your children walk to school?

There is a very good chance that you don’t. Statistics show that only about 25 per cent of children in Canada walk to school.

Depending on your age, you may have gone to school at a time when being driven was virtually unheard of. I remember walking to school without any parental supervision from the time I was five, regardless of the weather.

This topic came to mind last week when I was listening to an interview on CBC radio. The number of children walking to school has declined steadily over the past few generations.

Why are so many children being chauffeured, rather than making their own way? Safety. There is a false perception among parents that it isn’t safe for children to walk to school alone.

It is false because, according to the B.C. Children’s Hospital Research Institute, there has never been a safer time to be a child in Canada.

Ironically, one of the leading causes of death and injury for children today, is car accidents – the most common way that children get to school.

The other leading cause is suicide.

ICBC claims that six children are killed, and 370 injured every year in B.C., travelling to and from school. Considering the source of the data, I think it is safe to assume that the majority of these accidents involve cars.

By driving your kids to school, you are putting them, and the children you drive past at greater risk for being hurt.

Why is a column on happiness spending time laying out the facts about children walking to school? Because the benefits of travelling to school on foot, walk hand in hand with children being happier.

The health benefits of physical activity have been well documented. Advantages include an increase in concentration and a boost in positive feelings, both of which contribute to being happier and more successful in school.

You may be thinking that your child is very active with organized sports and doesn’t need more exercise, but walking to school has other rewards.

Children who make their own way to school have child development benefits as well. Among them are greater levels of independence, resilience, and confidence.

Walking also gives them opportunities to problem solve, make decisions, and connect with their community, nature, and other students who walk the same route.

All these things have been scientifically proven to boost happiness, as well as to aid child development.

Perhaps after reading this, you decide it is time to get your child walking to school. There are a few things you should think about before sending them off, especially if this is a new experience.

Getting started


You need to start with some ground work. Children need to know how to be safe on their way to school.

The best way to prepare them is to walk with them, and model good pedestrian behavior.

  • Don’t run across a road when the light is about to turn red.
  • Make sure you look both ways before crossing anywhere.
  • Cross at crosswalks.

It is important that they know how to make their way to school safely.

Have a plan B

Spend time talking about how to handle different situations that might occur, such as what to do if they walk home and no one is there, or if they have a problem on the way to school.

Start slowly

If this is a new activity, start by walking your children to school if you are able to. This will allow them to feel comfortable with it, and for you to monitor their preparedness to walk alone.

If you are a working parent who doesn’t have the luxury of walking with your child, do the walk in the evening or on the weekend, so they know the route and feel comfortable, or arrange for your child to walk with someone else in your neighbourhood.

Meeting your child part way is another good strategy, if they are anxious about walking alone. Gradually increase the length they walk before meeting you.

If they have friends in the neighbourhood, this can be a great compromise to the walking worry. They aren’t alone, but they are still needing to be responsible for themselves.

Wrapping kids up and protecting them from life isn’t the best way to create happy adults. Letting them walk to school without you is a great way to boost their happiness now, and in the future.


Honour your child's effort

Perhaps it is because I was a teacher for so many years that I always approach the end of August with a slight feeling of sadness.

For many, it marks the end of a carefree summer life, and a return to the world of education.

Going back to school affects not only teachers and students, it also changes life for parents.

Thoughts of going back to school brings with it a variety of emotions, including excitement, anticipation, and dread. For some, school is a wonderful time, for others it is pure torture.

Happiness is a choice, and there are choices you can make to help set yourself, your children, your grandchildren, or your students up for their best year ever, both academically and emotionally.

Concentrate on the purpose of education

Sometimes I think people have lost sight of why we send children to school. It isn’t to get As or to lessen the cost of childcare; it is to learn.

If you want your children, or students to have a good academic year, focus on that goal. Stop concentrating on the marks they achieve, and honour the effort they put into learning.

Young children go to school as thirsty sponges. They are curious and ready to learn. Unfortunately, they quickly realize they are being compared to others. As soon as that awareness kicks in, their curiosity fades.

We have reached a point where going to school is more about getting good grades than it is about curiosity, discovery, and learning.

If students go to school believing the only acceptable option is to produce A work, what happens if they don’t?

Often these students turn to strategies like cheating, or they stop trying to learn. What’s the point? This is when they become behaviour problems, or start looking for other ways to occupy their time at school.

Make sure your children and students realize that learning isn’t reliant on getting an A. It is about gaining new awareness, skills, and knowledge.

Focus on progress rather than achievement. Talk every day about what they’ve learned.

The learning doesn’t have to be subject oriented. What did they learn about themselves, working with others, or dealing with challenges.

If they didn’t learn anything – a common response – talk about how that was a waste of a day. They are there to learn. It may take some practice and encouragement for them to stop giving “Nothing!” as an answer.

Celebrate individual differences and the ability to get smarter

Not everyone is naturally good at math, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better. You don’t have to be the smartest person in your class to be a top-class learner.

We all learn at different rates, and start with different skills and abilities, but everyone can learn and get better. Concentrate on the progress they are making rather than comparing them to others.

Help your charges celebrate their own learning journey as well as the victories of others. You aren’t in competition with anyone but yourself.

Honour effort over achievement

Does students who get an A without trying, deserve more recognition than students who works their socks off and gets a B? Absolutely not. If you can get an A without trying, imagine what you could achieve if you put in some effort.

It is time for parents to stop putting their praise into achievement, and look instead at how hard their offspring have worked and whether they are learning.

If one child worked hard for an A, and another one worked hard for a C, they should both be celebrated. The person who shouldn’t be honoured for achievement is the child who didn’t make any effort to learn, regardless of the mark received.

It is hard to fight against the school system of comparison and grading, but there are things you can do to lessen its effect.

For anyone who wants to read more about setting your children or students up for their best year ever, I am offering a back-to-school special.

On Sept. 1- 2, you can get the eBook of Modelling Happiness by Reen Rose on Amazon for free.

This is not a sales pitch, and I will receive no royalties if you take advantage of this offer. I simply want to help you, and the children in your world be happier.

If you read the book and are able to write an honest review on Amazon, I would be grateful.

If you go to school to learn, and put in the work necessary to accomplish that, the marks will take care of themselves.

Even if you don’t bring home As, you will be satisfied that you brought home the best marks you could, and more importantly you will know you came home smarter.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an educator, speaker and author who specializes in positive psychology and success. She has been teaching children and adults for over three decades and is a passionate lifelong learner. 

Currently, Reen is helping schools create cultures that foster mental well-being, growth mindsets and robust happiness. She encourages teachers and parents to model this behaviour for their students and children. This is also a good strategy for business and community leaders.

Reen offers presentations and workshops that are a blend of research-based expertise, storytelling, humour and practical strategies.

Reen is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her website at www.ReenRose.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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