ENGAGE! in the Power of Positive Thoughts

Sherri_WilsonI really believe in lifelong learning. I try to model behavior for my kids to show them I really believe in it and also because it makes me a better person! The class I’m currently taking is The Science of Happiness from UC Berkeley. I’ve just started but the topic is fascinating and I can already see how parents and teachers would benefit from understanding some of the brain research coming out of this field!

Positive Emotions Yield Student Success

According to Dr. Barbara Frederickson, a highly respected researcher of positive emotions, cultivating positivity can make us more creative, resilient, and better connected to others. Dr Frederickson says positive emotions open us up or broaden our perspective and transforms us by bringing out the best in us.

Opening us up has some impressive results. People become more creative and are better at problem solving. They are more resilient and better able to cope with challenges. One of the most interesting findings she cited was an improvement in the academic performance of kids. According to Dr. Frederickson research has also shown that kids do better on tests if they’re asked to sit and think of a positive memory right before they take the test.

Parents can empower their own children by helping them start their day in a positive way. Make sure they feel good about the day ahead as they walk out the door, send them off with positive messages about what a great day they are going to have. When they get home ask them questions that help them reflect on the positive experiences they had at school before discussing any problems. When they come home with something they are really proud of ask them how they felt when they got their scores. Some of the questions you can ask might be “What was the greatest thing that happened in school today?” or “What was the best part of your day today?” or even “How great did you feel when you saw you aced that exam?”

Positive Emotions Yield Positive Leaders

Dr Frederickson also found positive emotions help us make better connections to others, even across groups. Positive emotions help us look past racial and cultural differences and see the unique individuals behind those traits. They help us see the universal qualities we share with others, instead of our differences. And other experiments have shown bringing out positive emotions, makes people more trusting and allows them to resolve situations with more win-wins.

That’s why it’s important for PTA leaders to remember the power of positive emotions as they recruit new volunteers, celebrate successful programs or events, and build relationships with school leaders. Starting each meeting with a positive message and a heartfelt thank you to any volunteers will make everyone feel good about being a part of the group!

How Much is Enough?

So how much positivity do we need? Dr Frederickson says high functioning people are those who score well on things like self-acceptance, purpose in life, environmental mastery, positive relationships with others, and personal growth and they typically experience a ratio of about three positive emotions to every negative one.

John Gottman’s research found unless married couples have at least five positive comments or interactions for every negative one, their marriage is likely to end. Also, high performance teams have almost six positive “utterances” for every one negative.

What Does it Mean for Us?

If you believe, as I do, that relationships are the secret to the universe, shouldn’t we make an effort to have positive interactions with everyone we meet? Certainly, sending the kids to school with a happy memory will help them start their day on a positive note. Also, interactions with teachers and administrators are more likely to result in win-win situations when we approach each other from a positive place.

If you are interested in learning more about the Science of Happiness, consider joining the course! For more information, about that one and many others check out the EDX site and you can read more of these studies and sign up for free newsletters at the Greater Good Science Center.

ENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.

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