A recent article on The Ladders features a report about America as a society that is less happy than ever because of mass addictions. The study featured is the World Happiness Report, an annual study sponsored by United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and has been published since 2012. It shows the changes in happiness around the world by ranking 156 nations based on global data from Gallup. And according to this report the global ranking of America for happiness has declined to number 18.
The thesis for this decline in happiness is attributed to an “epidemic of addictions” including drugs and alcohol, screens and social media, shopping, risky and exploitive sexual behavior, compulsive exercising, etc. Essentially the modern lifestyle hypes addictive experiences. Any activity that gives you the “short term feel-good hits” (think the biochemical reactions of the brain: endorphins and dopamine).
In this way I understand the human condition is prone to error (i.e., believing things that are not true and acting on them), and also fault tolerant in that we always have the power to choose what to think and how to respond to things in life that disturb our peace.
And here is the point about happiness I wish to address: the data in this study shows a strong correlation between teen’s experiencing much less happiness and significantly increased screen time. This Ladders feature suggests that the more time teens spend online the less happy they are; and the more time they spend in the analog world, the happier they are. Indeed life in a cyber-powered world places new demands on all of us to take charge of regulating the use of technology and mitigating the impact of chronic social-media empowered stress on our own hearts and minds.
We have a saying in our family: “You are responsible for your own happiness.” And this saying has served us well. We have learned that without taking responsibility for your own state of heart and mind, we are all vulnerable to the whims and actions of other people and circumstances that cause pain and can inspire anxiety like a cancer of emotion disrupting human connection in our relationships. All it takes is one unhappy person, a chronic disease, an act of cruelty or a tragedy to sour the climate of our family culture… if we allow it to define our reality.
Connecting our stress response to happiness
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a training at Sierra Vista Hospital delivered by my friend and colleague, Tzeli Triantafillou, founder of Myndzen, a stress management coaching firm that specializes in serving professionals in the health, addiction and mental health fields. Tzeli is an accomplished Toxicologist and former cancer researcher who experienced burnout at the end of her successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. “I want to talk with you today about what is toxic to the spirit,” she begins and then she proceeds to provide a very eloquent description of the biochemical functions of the brain, human physiology and mindfulness to explain how we are created to grow stronger from life’s stresses.
Below are some of the insights that I have gleaned from her training that can help parents better understand the role of stress in their teens’ lives as empowerment to choose happiness in all circumstances. This is the “analog” aspect of our human capacity for connection so undervalued and misunderstood in a “digital world”.
Reframe how you think about stress. Is it your friend or foe? Think of stress (i.e, your body’s reaction to a life event or experience that can make you feel insecure, angry or emotional), as a part of living a healthy life; and is not something to be avoided. Our bodies are designed to respond to stress in order to become stronger, and the mind plays a major role in responding to stress in a healthy way.
Your child’s brain is their servant. The brain is an amazing instrument designed to keep us safe and empower us to grow and prosper from all of life’s experiences. Tezli offers this instructive image of the brain (above) that features how the lower/back portions of the brain associated with fight, flight or freeze response to threats that changes our body chemistry (sweating, increased heart beat, etc.); while the front part of the brain helps us assess threats and respond to the things that disturb our peace in a more healthy way. She further explains that brain science teaches us how the mind can influence brain bio-chemistry and redirect energy to thoughts that calm the brain and body so you can think more clearly about a response. Since the brain is wired to detect threats (for survival) there is a tendency to have a negative bias when we encounter stress. Therefore “the meaning we give life experiences is our power to heal and be well in response to stress,” she explains.
Chronic stress and your child’s brain. Toxic stress is relentless on the endocrine (regulating emotion and sleep) and immune (defense against disease) systems that can compromise our capacity to think clearly and seek help.
With chronic stress the lower part of the brain responsible for responding to threats the amygdala, (flight, fight or freeze) can behave like an alarm that will not stop.
Teens today are living with chronic stressors in their cyber-powered social realms, and the prefrontal cortex portion of the brain (at the forehead) is still in development. This is the portion of the brain responsible for executive reasoning associated with morality and responding to threats by taking time to gather data and seek wise counsel. If you suspect that your teen is having a hard time with anxiety and/or depression, contact a professional to learn more and seek treatment if necessary. Contact Joanna for a list of resources.
Things you can do to help mitigate the impact of chronic stress:
- Consider that your child is the expert on their own childhood and teen year’s experiences.
- Consider that your child is actually a fellow human being; get interested in who they are as a person and listen to how their childhood and teen years are informing them.
- Be careful to offer your wisdom, not your opinion, in response to their experiences
- Make an appointment with Tzeli to help you model the peace of mind you want for your child.
- Make an appointment with Joanna to help you create house rules to regulate the use of technology and mitigate the stress of adult issues that impact your child in their cyber-powered world
- Mediation Tips
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.
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