My husband and I are parents to a beautiful son, and we know that he mimics most of what he sees us doing. Toddlers are fearless and tenacious. The world is a brand-new place to them, and they want to try everything they see. But what we have also discovered, as both parents and married happiness researchers, is our son’s ability to sense his parents’ emotions just as quickly as anything he sees with his eyes. Kids are “human Geiger counters,” having the ability to pick up on our energy levels, mood swings, and mindsets from a very young age.
Adapted from my bestselling book Broadcasting Happiness, here are the top three ways to build a positive mindset and transmit positive health to our kids. I encourage you to pick one of these habits and do it every day for a period of 21 days. Research shows that doing something for 21 consecutive days helps us build a life habit. These habits will help inoculate your brain against stress and negativity from the outside world by allowing you to view your life to more positively.
1) Send A Positive Email
How to do it: Every day for 21 days, first thing in the morning, send a short positive email of praise or thanks to someone you know. The goal is to draft the email in two minutes or less. Recipients can include colleagues, your spouse, a childhood friend, or even someone you don’t know too well, such as the security guard at the front desk of your office. If you don’t have their email address, consider a quick handwritten note. The key is to tell these people at least one way in which they have made a positive difference in your life.
Why it works: Sometimes it feels as though thinking about a negative person consumes our mental resources. Our brains churn as we consider the ill effects this person is having on us and how we are going to handle future encounters. We also often forget about all the life-giving people we have in our lives.
This exercise, in just minutes each day, reminds our brain of our deep social-support network and puts into perspective the size of the role that the negative person actually plays in our life.
Social support is one of the greatest predictors of happiness. And every time we meaningfully connect with one of our email recipients, we shrink the amount of influence the negative person has on our life. That space becomes filled with positive, soul-nourishing people who only make our lives better.
2) Collect Your Gratitudes
How to do it: Every day, for 21 days, write down three new and unique things you are grateful for in life. Make sure to be specific and briefly explain why you are grateful for them. For instance, you might write that you are grateful today because your son told you he loves you, which made you feel very special. It is important to come up with new items each day so that at the end of the three weeks, you have more than 63 documented gratitudes.
Why it works:
Actively cataloging the things you are grateful for in life trains your brain to scan the world in a more positive way. Instead of scanning for things to complain or be stressed about, your brain starts to first focus on the parts of your life that are positive and meaningful.
In just one to two minutes a day, you can build new neural pathways in your brain for higher levels of positivity. In a study conducted at Eastern Washington University, researchers found that listing three gratitudes for just one week not only produced a significant boost in feelings of well-being while engaging in the practice, but also it continued to climb for participants weeks after the practice ended. In a similar study—this one conducted with a group of people aged 60 and older—researchers found that a two-week gratitude practice led to a significant rise in well-being that held steady even a month after participants had stopped counting their gratitudes. Engaging in the quick daily habit had lasting effects on their happiness.
3) Snap A Positive Picture
How to do it: Every day for 21 days, take at least one picture of a meaningful moment or thing in your life—a sunset, your child sleeping, a project at work you successfully finished, or perhaps the meal your spouse cooked that night. Make sure to capture a moment in which you felt positive emotions, such as happiness, gratitude, joy, peace, serenity, or love. At the end of each week, scroll through the pictures you took to remind yourself of the emotional highlights of the week.
Why it works: Photos can trigger emotions in just seconds, even decades after they were taken. The positive pictures you take remind you of the emotions you felt while taking them, and by reviewing them, you effectively relive those times, doubling the amount of positive emotions you felt as a result. Additionally, the practice of taking photos of positive subjects on a regular basis trains your brain to watch for moments to capture. Similar to the effect that counting your gratitudes can have on your mindset, positive pictures can cause you to feel more optimistic as you literally begin to adjust your viewpoint of the world.
It may seem like these easy little habits are too simple to spark big changes in your mindset and energy levels, but we’ve read about the positive effects in the thousands of stories we’ve received from people.
Doing one of these positive habits (or more if you feel so inclined) refocuses your attention on the positive and meaningful parts of your day, which, by default, ends up shrinking the power negativity has over your mindset.
The simple act of practicing gratitude or scanning the world for the positive shifts the focus away from stress and negativity, not to mention it gives us the unique energy boost that comes from remembering the best moments from our life and the positive emotions we experienced during them. If we practice these positive habits, our kids will only reap the benefits, absorbing positive health and high energy from their parents.