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Why Boredom Is Bad For You And Your Kids

"I'm bored!"

 

How often do you hear that as a parent?  How often do you say it, even to yourself?  Our hectic lives have not banished boredom from the face of the planet.  Whether it's at school, at work, or in other environments, boredom lingers and presents many threats to our health and happiness.

 

For example, people prone to boredom are more likely to engage in addictive behaviors such as binge eating and drinking, gambling, and other compulsions.  In addition, boredom is associated with unsafe driving habits.  Bored drivers tend to drive at higher speeds and are slower to react to unexpected hazards.  They also are more likely to drift over the center line into oncoming traffic.  Finally, boredom has a negative impact on kids.  Bored students are less able to learn and remember information, and bored teens are 50% more likely to experiment with smoking, drinking, and illegal drugs

 

Fear not, however, because we can eradicate boredom by practicing habits of happiness and creativity.  Dopamine-producing behaviors such as gratitude, kindness, and walking change our brain chemistry and make us more engaged.  Being creative is another way to inject enthusiasm into an otherwise mundane situation (check out my "10 Ways To Boost Creativity" blog post for ideas).  You can also fight boredom by learning something new and interesting.  Have you ever heard of Gaelic football or cheese rolling?  Start there! 

 

 

 

10 Ways To Boost Creativity

Creativity is a path to happiness.  It also is an essential aspect of innovation.  As kids many of us are naturally creative.  Unfortunately, our creativity tends to be eliminated as we enter school. 

The good news is that we can reclaim our creativity.  In addition, we can help our kids preserve and develop their creative capacity.

Here are ten (hopefully fun) activities that can boost your creativity.  Using each group of words, compose a short story, skit, poem, song, movie, dance, etc.  Let your mind roam free.  If this becomes hilarious and a bit chaotic, so be it!  Maybe you could try this exercise the next time you need an icebreaker in the office, the classroom, or anywhere else.  Plus, you might learn a thing or two by looking up the meanings of any people, places, or things you don't know about.  The more we learn, the more creative we can be!   

 

Submarine

Giraffe

Tampa

Violin

Superman

 

James Bond

Walla Walla, Washington

Skunk

Hula hoop

Nutella

 

Onion rings

Portland

Candles

Chincilla

Millard Fillmore

 

Tuba

Vatican City

Thin Mints

Al Capone

Poker

 

Golf cart

Beard

Mars

Guinea pig

Ronald Reagan

 

Oak tree

Porsche

Suitcase

Lebron James

Aardvark

 

Pufferfish

Sphinx

Popcorn

Babe Ruth

Glockenspiel

 

Walrus

U2

Sled

Kabbadi

Napoleon

 

Molars

Ottawa

Silk Road

Flip flop

Olaf

 

Louis Armstrong

Iguana

Starbucks

Columbus Zoo

Hello Kitty! pencil

Can Being Busy Make Us Less Productive?

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." - Socrates

As we identify and teach habits related to emotional well-being, it's important to think about the negative impact of busyness on our brains, moods, and output.  Thanks to modern technology, we can fill our plates with endless projects and diversions.  But should we? 

If productivity is our goal, we should think twice before embracing multitasking.  Recent research has revealed that multi-tasking can actually make us less productive.  By changing course while in the middle of completing one task, we ensure that it will take longer to finish both objectives; in fact, the time required increases by 25%.   

Busyness also impedes our ability to maintain calm and contented brains and emotional states.  Brain scans have demonstrated that extreme multitasking leads to lower brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region that helps us focus and concentrate.  In other words, being busy wires our brains to become more agitated, anxious, and unsettled. 

Despite the downsides of multitasking, many of us feel drawn to do it anyway.  Why is that?  Researchers at the University of Chicago suggest that part of the answer may be something known as "idleness aversion."  Since we see full schedules as emblematic of success, we may be too frightened to relax.  Whether or not we realize it, we are compelled to work harder than is necessary.

As Socrates said, a busy life leads to barrenness.  Since our objective is to create lives of joy and meaning, let's find ways to practice happiness habits while avoiding incessant activity. 

 

Kind Kids Will Create A Safer, Healthier Future

As you may know, teaching kindness is one of the best ways to guide our kids towards happier lives.  New research is showing that kindness has many other benefits as well.

According to this new study, children who show a high degree of "pro-social behavior" (cooperation, helpfulness, empathy, etc.) go on to have better educational outcomes and job prospects.  Such kids will also be less likely to have legal problems and mental illness as they grow up.  This research adds to the growing body of evidence linking kindness with emotional well-being and success in life.

 

By teaching kindness to the kids in our lives, we'll help them become happier people.  We'll also be doing our part to create a safer, more prosperous, and more sustainable future.   

Teaching Gratitude

Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend an education conference in San Francisco, CA. While I was there, I learned many exciting findings from the "science of happiness." That weekend revolutionized my perspectives related to teaching and parenting. Since then I have been on a quest to create a happier classroom and to help other teachers do the same thing.

 

One lesson I learned at the conference pertains to the relationship between happiness and success. As recent research has shown, success does not always lead to happiness. Many of us know this from experience. For example, landing a highly coveted job and buying your dream home may not necessarily result in a blissful state. On the other hand, people who are happy tend to find success in school, at work, and in every domain in life.

 

Grateful people tend to be happier, whether they are adults or kids. When we express gratitude, our brains release dopamine, the chemical known as the "happiness neurotransmitter." The more time we spend being grateful, the happier we are. So, if we can help kids become more grateful, they will be happier and more successful in the short run and down the road.

With this in mind, I start many of my sixth grade history classes with brief "moments of gratitude." I ask students to spend a few minutes drawing pictures of anything for which they are grateful. Wandering around the room, I encounter illustrations of dogs, cake, family gatherings, and other sources of delight. My hope is that gratitude will become habitual for my students, who will be happier as a result. In turn, greater happiness will make success more likely in the kids’ academic and personal lives.


Here are more ways to teach gratitude in the classroom:

 

- When a student is celebrating a birthday, have the other kids make a list of reasons why they are grateful for the birthday girl or boy. 

 

- If the skies are clear, talk about how grateful you are that the day is so beautiful. On a rainy day, proclaim that you are grateful for precipitation because our food chain depends on it.

 

- Begin class with the lights turned off. After awhile, turn them on. Discuss how grateful we should be to have electricity in our lives.   

 

- We are fortunate that we have the ability to calm our minds when we feel anxious or stressed. You may want to use the "Mindfulness Bell" in your classroom to help students relax before a test. 

 

- After returning from a holiday, go around the room and invite everyone share one positive experience that happened while you were away.

 

- How lucky are we to have antibiotics and other modern medicines? Work this into conversation when kids return to school from absences due to illness.

 

- Give extra credit when students list three things they are grateful for on their test papers. 

 

 While many of us may be "wired to whine," we can train our brains to become grateful.  As in other areas of life, practice makes perfect. By teaching gratitude we will direct our students towards better mental health, stronger academic performance, and adulthoods of meaning and fulfillment.    

 

10 Ways To Teach Kindness To Kids

Kindness is a cost-free way to improve your happiness.  Plus, it doesn't require a prescription!  When we are kind, our brains experience an infusion of dopamine, the "happiness neurotransmitter."  Plus, we will get better at being kind with practice.  Here is a list of ways that we can teach kindness to our kids.

 

1.  Model kindness.  Our kids are always paying attention to our actions, whether or not we realize it.  When interacting with other people, try your best to use a kind tone. 

 

2.  Give a generous tip.  If you're eating out with the kids, leave a tip that is more than expected. 

 

3.  Bake cookies for a neighbor. 

Globally Curious?

Interested in how many people were born today?  How about the amount of money spent on obesity-related issues in the US?  Or maybe the number of emails that have been sent today around the world?

You can find all of these statistics and many more at this site: http://www.worldometers.info/.  What a treasure trove of fascinating discussion starters for the social studies classroom!  My students stumbled across the page and were instantly transfixed.  Of course, you can share this with your own children as well.  We become more grateful for our blessings and curious about the world when we have easy access to this kind of information. 

How History Can Make Us More Grateful

The headlines are, and will always be, disastrous.  If you spend five minutes reading a newspaper or watching a newscast, you might be tempted to believe that the Earth is seconds away from total destruction.  Surely things have never been this bad, right?

 

Actually, things have never been this good.  Check out this video from Hans Rosling, a British statistician who is able to bring numbers to life.  Rosling shows how the past 200 years have brought us to new heights of life expectancy and wealth.  We have never lived longer or earned more.  In addition, we have never had this much food to eat.  Babies are surviving their first years of life at a much higher percentage than at any other time in our planet's history.  Communication and transportation have never been easier or faster. Of course, we do have major problems that will demand solutions over time.  Yet, human beings are a far cry from the "nasty, brutish, and short" lifetimes that we used to have in previous centuries.    

 

History can teach us many lessons.  One of these is that we should be grateful for modernity.  Despite its faults, life in the contemporary world is vastly better than it used to be.  We will be happier people if we learn how far we have come and express gratitude for our progress.   

Want safe drivers? Teach empathy.

While Jenny and I may think that driving is light years away for our kids, that visit to the DMV will be here before we know it.  What can we be doing now to prepare them to be the safest drivers possible?

 

A new study out of the Czech Republic suggests that empathy is related to driver safety.  People who have greater concern for the well-being of others are more likely to be safer drivers than those who are self-focused.  The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Neurolmage, showed that safe drivers had more brain activity in the superior temporal sulcus, a region associated with empathy.

 

We have no control over the weather, potholes, or other driving conditions.  Yet, we can improve safety on the roads by teaching our kids the importance of considering the viewpoints of others.  In the classroom - literature, history, social studies, etc. - and at home, we can produce incident-free future roadway travel by teaching empathy.

 

 

The Mindfulness Bell

All of us need ways to manage the stress we face in our lives.  Here is a helpful tool - the mindfulness bell.  I like to use it in my middle school history classes.  For the duration of the sound of the bell, try to focus your thoughts only on your breathing.  Perhaps you could count your breaths or zero in on the sensation of air coming into and leaving from your body. 

This may be a challenge at first.  It certainly was (and still is) for me!  Foreign thoughts try to force themselves into my consciousness. Yet, the more I practice, the better I get at focusing my attention on my breathing. 

 

When you have mastered this task, try to maintain your focused attention for ever longer periods of time.  You will probably find that this relaxes your brain and body, lowering your stress level and improving your ability to think in depth.     

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