The Happiness Connection  

Give experiences, not stuff

Stop giving your kids so much stuff for Christmas.

No, I am not the Grinch reincarnated. I didn’t even follow this advice myself when my children were young, but I have come to believe that there is a better way to create a magical holiday season than buying, wrapping, and leaving physical presents under the tree.

Instead of giving stuff to your loved ones, give them experiences.

My parents have contributed to this new way of thinking. They are in their late eighties, and buying them presents is darn near impossible. Anything they want, or need, they have.

For the past several years, the gifts I’ve given my mom, revolve around giving her my time. I know she would rather have a day with me than more clutter for her house.

One of her favourite gifts is a morning of shopping and then lunch together. We don’t have to buy anything, it is just a chance to spend time without any pressure to for me to get back to work.

We may only shop for a few hours, but I clear my entire day for her. She looks forward to the occasion, enjoys it in the moment, and then has memories to look back on.

Yes, I spend time with my parents that does not involve being part of a gift, but they never turn down more. A day when I clear my schedule just for them, never gets old.

I have always believed in the importance of family time. Whether it is playing games together, going camping, or watching a movie, this is what bonds people. Doing things makes memories and helps increase our connection.

Our family Christmases have always been a blend of stuff and experiences, but I am beginning to believe that there are a lot of benefits to decreasing the material gifts, and increasing the experiential ones.

Tackling the job of de-cluttering our home has drawn my attention to the amount of paraphernalia I have accumulated. I recommend this exercise to everyone.

You might not think you have much junk in your house, but start delving into the back of those closets and the depths of the basement and you might be surprised.

Why do we hold on to so many things we don’t use, and probably don’t even remember we have? I would be a rich woman now, if I hadn’t bought all the things I was sure I needed at the time, but are now stuffed in a box or closet somewhere.

Giving experiences can cut down on this accumulation of clutter.

In my mind, that is a huge advantage. No more worries about where you are going to put the new accumulation of objects.

Giving experiences can give you more lasting happiness.

Research shows that we get more enduring pleasure from doing things than we do from getting things. Scientist have found that giving experiences also gives an opportunity to look forward to the occasion. This anticipation drives happiness.

There is a magical touch of unknown possibility that comes with imagining what a holiday to Disneyland, or the local ski hill might hold. You don’t know what might happen, who you might meet, or what adventures you might embark on.

Rather than trying to track down the hottest toy for under the tree, think about some of these gift ideas, or be creative and come up with some of your own.

  • A custom calendar with family photos
  • Gift certificates to movies, plays, restaurants, health resorts, coffee shops etc.
  • A box of coupons specially designed for the recipient. (An hour of time with mom, a hockey game with dad, a favourite book being read, two games of monopoly, etc.)
  • A family holiday
  • Volunteering as a family to help a local charity, go to Central America to help build a school, or spend time with the animals at the SPCA
  • A photo album with photographs from the past year
  • A mega sized jigsaw puzzles that everyone can work on together
  • Going to the local pool, bowling alley, movie theatre, mini golf course etc. as a family

The possibilities are endless.

The experience you give does not have to include you, but don’t underestimate what your presence is worth to the people who love you. I used to think that giving my mom a night out at the movies was skimping on a present. Fortunately, she set me straight.

If you are looking for the greatest gift of all to share this holiday season, jump on this bandwagon and focus on giving meaningful life experiences rather than stuff.


Why is your child in school?

I recently saw a social media post from a proud parent whose children had brought home great marks on their most recent report cards.

I want to start by saying that I am in no way judging this person, or how well her kids did, but my first reaction when I saw the post was to scream, “Stop putting so much emphasis on marks!”

Too many parents assess the success of their children’s school careers by the marks on their report cards.

You may think I`m a crackpot, but I believe in the depth of my soul that we have lost sight of why our children go to school. Are they there to bring home good grades, or are they there to learn?

Like many parents, you may assume the two things are the same, but sadly they are not. You can get top marks without understanding the material.

If you have a good memory, you can regurgitate information, which is what tests ask you to do. You don’t have to understand the material to repeat it.

Learning goes beyond storing information. It is a much slower and more laborious process. It is not something you can do by cramming the night before an exam.

At the end of the last school year, I listened to a friend complain that although her children brought home top grades, they were at a loss to understand and respond to simple email when they were helping her at work.

She questioned whether they were learning anything at school.

Some children struggle to memorize information, but understand the skills involved and can apply them outside the classroom. They may not get top marks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. They may even be learning more than the A students.

The mindsets play a major role in how you view grades.

With a fixed mindset, you believe everyone is born with a predetermined level of intelligence and natural ability; this level will never change. If you are a smart child, you will be a smart adult. If you aren’t a smart child, then you are just out of luck.

This mindset believes things will come easily to those with natural ability. Getting good marks should be easy. The focus is on results, rather than effort or progress.

Parents with fixed mindsets want their offspring to bring home grades that show the world their family is full of intelligence, and natural ability. If they can`t show off marks, how will anyone know how smart they are? Emphasis is placed on the letters or percentages contained on their reports.

Research shows that students with fixed mindsets are more vulnerable to cheating, because emphasis is on the grade. Learning is of secondary importance.

The other mindset is called growth. With this way of viewing the world, you believe natural ability is only a starting point. Anyone can get better if they put enough time and energy into it. The focus is on progress and effort and life-long learning.

Parents with this mindset don’t mind if their child gets average marks as long as they tried their hardest, and made progress. If they haven’t learned what they need to, they can try again without shame.

The way you react to your child’s report card marks influences their mindset. When you praise outcomes rather than progress, you push the learner into a fixed mindset. It’s as if you don’t care if they are getting smarter, just that they got good grades.

“Mom made a huge fuss because my marks are high, what happens next time if they aren’t as good?”

By focusing on the letter grade, you may steer them away from the importance of grit, determination, and effort.

I’m not suggesting it doesn’t matter what grades a student receives. Universities are interested in marks, but they are also looking for sports involvement, work experience, and leadership.

We need to get back to the real reason people go to school. They are there to learn.

When your children bring home their next report, look at the full picture.

  • How hard did they try?
  • Did they learn anything?
  • What can they do to learn more?

Your child may have worked hard and achieved top marks, but focus on effort and progress. Celebrate the learning, rather than the marks.

Be the proud parent who announces to the world, “My kids brought home great report cards. They worked really hard and are smarter today than they were when the last report came home.”

Taking the first step

This week marks a milestone in my career as a columnist for Castanet. It was one year ago this week, that my first article was published.

Adults learn by taking time to reflect, not by acquiring information. New knowledge is great, but the learning happens in the reflection.

Before sitting down to write this week, I spent some time contemplating my columnist experiences. What had I learned?

If you decide to take a new first step, don’t worry about what the last step will look like

I considered the editor’s offer of joining the columnist team for a little while before I said yes. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share my message with the world, but this was a new experience, and it took me some time to take the plunge.

I decided I should have an exit strategy before agreeing to write weekly. How long would I commit for, and would it be a problem if I didn’t want to continue?

I wanted to know my last step, before I took my first one.

I thought I had learned not to do this, but I guess not. I have spent more time than I care to admit trying to figure out stuff that may never need to be figured out.

Let me give you an example.

When the Harry Potter phenomena started, I decided to get the audio cassettes as birthday and Christmas presents for my children. Great idea, but it also left me in a quandary. I didn’t know who to give them to.

I was sure they would both want them when they moved away from home. Should I give them all to one child, split them, or give them jointly?

If my kids were close to leaving home, that might have been a worthwhile consideration, but they were still in single digit years. I imagine you have the same look on your face now, as the friend I mentioned my conundrum to 20 years ago.

Her look was backed up by her words, “Are you crazy?”

Those audio tapes have been long discarded in favour of CDs and audio files. I didn’t need to figure out the last step before taking the first one.

That last step never happened.

It is important to live in the moment when you take those first few new steps. Leave the future and the problems it may, or may not contain, for another day.

Say yes to new experiences

This is a skill that some people find easier than others. Your comfort level with new experiences is unique to you, but regardless of what it is, everyone has opportunities to try something new. That might be going to the local coffee shop by yourself, or doing a parachute jump.

It doesn’t matter.

The more you try new things, the less thought and energy you need to expend to make yourself say yes.

I challenge you to commit to saying yes to new experiences as they arise. You will never know what magic they may hold unless you give them a chance.

I don’t need to reach the most readers, I just need to reach the right readers

I lived in blissful ignorance of whether my column was being clicked on or not until the editor drew my attention to it by saying my column was doing well that week.

How did he know that?

Comparing yourself to other people is not a good practice if you want to be happy, but once I knew I could see the click rate for the articles, I couldn’t ignore them.

Being the column that follows the horoscopes could be very disheartening if I didn’t work hard to avoid the comparison game. Heather Zais usually gets three of four times the number of clicks I do.

Whenever I get sucked into looking at the numbers, I remind myself that I don’t want my words to be read just for the sake of another number on my click count.

I want the people who are drawn to my message to find it.

If one person finds wisdom in what I have to say, then my effort has been worth it.

Whether you are one of my regular readers or this is your first time clicking on one of my articles, I want to say thank you.

I am grateful you have chosen to read my words, and I appreciate those of you who have reached out to me with your own experiences, and reactions.

Thank you, Ross Freake, for inviting me to contribute a weekly column. I’m glad I took that first step.


Curiosity can conquer fear

I’m not a huge fan of winter. More accurately, I’m not a huge fan of the kinds of winters we have in the Okanagan.

I’d probably love a Hawaiian winter. But as a happiness enthusiast, I do the best I can to be positive during the winter months.

I’ve decided that the icy roads and sidewalks give me an opportunity to for physical adventure that I might not consciously choose.

During the most recent cold snap, I had one of those adventures while driving. We live in a hilly area of town and as I approached the stop sign at the bottom of one of those hills, I realized that the road was like a sheet of ice.

I put all my winter driving knowledge into action, and managed to come to a stop, just in time to prevent my car from sliding onto the busy road at the bottom, but it was a narrow escape.

I took a deep breath to let my racing heart slow, and to let my hands and lower arms stop tingling. Does fear cause a sensation to sweep down your arms and into your hands?

I noticed this phenomenon years ago, but I didn’t think too much about it until recently when I came across a study on body mapping.

Bodily Maps of Emotions was published in 2013. A team of Finnish biomedical engineers wanted to know more about the link between emotional states and sensations in the body.

A group of 701 participants from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan were shown emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions to induce one of fourteen feelings. To avoid bias, the name of the mood the participants were being exposed to was never used.

The researchers were interested in immediate, conscious reactions not in biological changes like body temperature, or heart rate.

To record these sensations, subjects were given two body silhouettes, and asked to colour the areas of their body where they felt an increase or decrease of activity, or sensation.

For example, I noticed an increase of activity in my head, chest, arms, and hands. I would have coloured these areas of the silhouettes red (high increase in activity) and yellow (very high increase in activity.)

If there were any areas with a decrease in sensation, or activity, I would colour them blue, or light blue.

There was individual variation on the areas of the silhouettes that were coloured, but when the researchers averaged the maps together, patterns emerged for the different feelings.

As you might expect, the research showed that the head was affected with every emotion, but there was only one feeling where the activity was decreased rather than increased.

Depression resulted in a lowering of sensation in the head, which might explain why people in this state find it difficult to engage with what is happening around them.

The body map for fear shows that I am not unique to having increased sensations in my hands and arms. In fact, many of the negative emotions showed increased activity in the hands.

Perhaps this happens to help us with the fight-flight response. You need to have your hands ready for movement if you plan to fight.

As this column is called the Happiness Connection, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the body map for happiness. This was the only emotion that showed an increase in activity in every part of the body, including the legs.

Maybe this explains why we jump for joy.

Love was a close second in this regard, although the legs were far less active.

I won’t attempt to describe the findings of the study for each emotion, but I’ll add the link, so you can look for yourself. http://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/646.full

An important question for any writer to ask themselves is “Who cares?”

I’ve shared this with you because I found it fascinating and expect that some of you will too, but there is another reason.

We know that if you smile, it will boost your feelings of happiness, even if the smile is fake. So, is it possible for you to boost your happiness by imagining an increase in sensation in your entire body?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think it is worth exploring. When I do my next meditation, I’m going to spend some time with this idea.

Does it matter whether I find a new way to boost happiness or not? No.

In face, as I write these words, I realize that the best lesson to take away from this column has nothing to do with body mapping. Happy people nurture their sense of curiosity, and that’s what the study into body mapping has given me an opportunity to do.

I encourage you to do the same. Find something that interests you, and make some time to be curious.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She 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 websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.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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