Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Your Happiest Summer Yet With Maureen Healy
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 372 of Live Happy Now. Summer should be all about fun and happiness. So this week, we’re looking at how to make this your family’s happiest summer yet. I’m your host, Paula Felps, this week I’m talking with educator and children’s emotional health expert, Maureen Healey. Her new book, The Happiness Workbook for Kids, looks at how to navigate the difficult times we’re in and create fun, positive experiences for children. She’s here today to talk about some of the things we all can do to make this summer happier and healthier for the whole family.
[00:00:39] PF: Maureen, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:41] MH: Thanks for having me.
[00:00:43] PF: Well, we want to have you on the show because we’re kicking off a month-long summer of fun here at Live Happy. You’re all about fun and happiness, so perfect fit. I wanted to talk to you because summer is, obviously, all about fun. That’s why we’re doing this celebration. But the past couple of years have been so tough on everyone. Why does that make it even more important for us to get really intentional about having fun, not just for our children, but for ourselves this summer?
[00:01:12] MH: Well, I think you we’re all in the process to differing degrees and for different reasons for bouncing back and becoming resilient. I think that that resilience is sort of the foundation for emotional health and a happier life. We all want to become happier. It’s just a natural inborn urge. The more we do that, it seems like every other piece of our life goes well.
[00:01:33] PF: That’s very true. But it can be difficult sometimes because there are people who still feel hesitant or feel like they’re just not in a space where fun is really on the books right now. What would you say to them?
[00:01:46] MH: Well, I mean, I think they are correct. Life has cycles. Sometimes, we want to learn how to expand the cycles that are really joyful and fun. If we’re in a challenging cycle, I mean, we don’t necessarily just put a motor on it and fly through it. But we want to move through challenges as rapidly and properly as quick and easily as we can. Knowing that, whoever’s listening, you have power over your thoughts, right? You have power over when you think of that. You have a feeling, and that feeling could be, “I’m learning from this. I’m moving in a better direction today.”
[00:02:17] PF: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that you talk about is positive emotional health and how that’s a route of becoming happier. I love that because that’s exactly what we talked about here. So can you talk about that for children? Where can parents start, and what does it mean for children to have positive emotional health?
[00:02:36] MH: It’s a great question. We could spend hours on that. Let’s see. What can I say? Well, I wrote a book The Emotionally Healthy Child for parents. Then my recent book, The Happiness Workbook for Kids, is really for children, so they can have their own emotional ahas. Because we really want to help them early on understand their emotions and how they work and discover what they can do to express them constructively versus destructively screaming and slamming doors. We’ve all done it, but having to make smart choices and then like helping them figure out what direction happier is in, right?
So you really can’t become happier until you, on a consistent basis, know how your emotions work and what you can do with them. You have the appropriate relationship to your emotions, knowing that you’re bigger than your feelings. When I work with little kids, and they say, “Oh, I’m so angry,” I say, “Did the anger feel bigger than you?” They’re like, “Absolutely.” So helping them understand they’re bigger than their emotions, that gives them the power of choice and what does emotional health look like. I mean, it can look different. But I guess a good way to think of it is emotional health is a skill of balance, and it’s learning how to get back to your center and get back on balance.
It has to do with flexibility versus rigidity. You want to be able to have that flexible thinking. Things happen in our life that are challenging. How do we get back to center and make a good choice in the next moment? So emotional health is being able to find your balance once again and having that emotional toolbox and the thoughts and the people around you that can support you and help move you in the right direction.
[00:04:07] PF: I know some parents are like, “Well, how can I help my child do that? Because I’m a mess right now.” A lot of people are very off balance right now. They’re still trying to deal with what’s happened and the uncertainty of what’s going on right now and the greater uncertainty of the future. So how can parents who don’t feel like they’re in a good space help their children discover that positive emotional health?
[00:04:29] MH: Yeah. It’s great. I mean, that’s why I wrote the book The Emotionally Healthy Child or the latest one, The Happiness Workbook for Kids. The biggest feedback I get from parents is like, “Forget my kids. These are good for me,” because it’s true. Emotional Health is a lifelong endeavor, right? It’s not a box we check. One week we’re learning forgiveness. The next week we’re learning like anger management. The next week we’re learning tolerance.
It’s learning together as a family or as friends. That is really helpful and that it’s true. Everything does begin in the family and the more that parents can learn alongside their kids. That’s why I really love giving kids like an activity from my workbook and saying, “Why don’t you teach that to me,” and having them be the boss. Because all of a sudden, they don’t even realize that they’re learning, and it puts them in a position of power, so they feel all jazzed up. So there’s creative ways to work with kids so that you can learn as well.
[00:05:22] PF: Oh, I really like that. Because I think everybody wants a really good summer this year. Everybody feels like we’ve earned it. We’ve put in some really rough times. We want this to be something that feels better again. For you, what’s a great starting point for such a summer?
[00:05:39] MH: Well, I think it’s like anything in the world. Like if you’re flying a plane from New York to LA, you need to know where you’re going. So it’s kind of like envisioning in your mind. You’re creating some sort of like playful map or something. I would say to a child, “Like what would be the most fun summer? Like what would we be doing?” Maybe you can’t do everything like Disneyland in Paris, but maybe you can put some things on the list that you can do and have things to look forward to. What’s exciting to me may not be exciting to you. But having things that you do together that create positive memories, that you can take photographs and put around the house, and also things that just sort of are joyful, I think, fill your happiness bucket.
[00:06:21] PF: I love that because the art of planning gives you that anticipatory savoring as you have things to look forward to, and that just elevates you way before the event ever happens, no matter how big or small that event is.
[00:06:36] MH: Then if you take pictures of that event, maybe go to the zoo or Safari or something local. Afterwards, you can see. You remind yourself of that event and how much fun you had. That immediately boosts your happiness mood too.
[00:06:48] PF: Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of articles, a lot of information about people. Just leaving pictures from your vacation in your cubicle at work can improve your work day because you think you’d be like, “Oh, I wish I was there.” Which you are but you also have that instant like, oh, those great emotions that are associated with it.
[00:07:06] MH: Absolutely.
[00:07:07] PF: So how can parents still help children bounce back from the challenges of the past couple years because they have been under stress, and we do want to move forward? But there’s a lot of processing that needs to be done, and we’ve had some horrible events happen in the last couple of weeks as well. So what are some tips that parents can use as they move into a lighter mood? But how can they help children process some of the grief, some of the anxiety they might be going through?
[00:07:34] MH: Yeah. I don’t think it’s a magic wand, but I do think there are a few key ideas. One of them is if – Depending on the age of your child. But oftentimes, if it’s a scary topic, whether it’s a school shooting or something else that’s worrying your child, talking about it relieves that stress. So talking about scary things helps lower the stress, and you’re going to want to do things, like you mentioned, that lower the stress, lower the anxiety, lower the worry, lower any of the challenging emotions so that they can come back to center and feel calm and make good choices.
Part of that is not putting additional stress. Not that parents are, but some parents are like, “Oh, we’re going to set you up with Kumon.” Not that Kumon’s bad, but you don’t want to over schedule the summer either. Do you know what I’m saying?
[00:08:17] PF: Right. Yeah.
[00:08:18] MH: You want to actually just play and have fun and learn new things. Maybe we garden. Maybe we learn how to cook a new meal. We do something that’s more organic and joyful, and helps us remember that we actually liked each other, and this can be fun.
[00:08:34] PF: Kids are different. So how do you discover what is going to make each child happier at different stages in life? Because I know, as a child, what worked for me one summer certainly didn’t work the next summer, and I was very different from my sister. So how do you kind of break that down?
[00:08:50] MH: It’s such a great question. It’s funny because as I look at my own life and look at the kids in my life, we’re always given clues, right? Like we’re always saying – Allowing kids to wear many different hats. Like you said, maybe one summer it’s Girl Scout camp. Maybe the next summer it’s zoo camp. Maybe the next summer it’s no camp but allowing us to try different things and to also explore.
I oftentimes will ask someone, “Hey, make a list of all the different things you want to do this summer,” and get their own input. Have them decide what it is that’s going to “ring your bell.” Like what is that going to be really cool this summer? Is it doing Lego camp? Or is it robotics or a Maker Camp? Or is it no camp, and you want to learn how to write a book or you want to learn how to design a website or you really just want to sit in the hammock in the backyard? I mean, giving them options.
But I do think certain things, exercise, being in nature, having a creative outlet, something they really love, allowing them to have that free time to do something they love is really important.
[00:09:52] PF: How important is it for us to get them outside this year? Because we’ve been kind of cooped up for a while, but I see now, what I’m hearing from parents is the kids don’t necessarily want to leave indoors now. They’ve got games. They’ve got a lot of social online things that they’re addicted to and don’t necessarily want to explore the outdoors. So how do we get over that?
[00:10:13] MH: I think there’s a two-part answer to that question.
[00:10:16] PF: Multiple.
[00:10:18] MH: I think one part is we have to be really careful as adults because oftentimes children and kids mimic us. I’m saying that because I’m at fault too sometimes. I want to do work or I want to watch a movie or I want to – But when I get myself out hiking, oh, I love life. I feel free. There’s an ease. So really making an effort and intention, and I don’t think it’s about forcing kids per se. But I think it is – I’m a big person, and I believe in family meetings. Everyone should have a voice. Maybe one child just doesn’t like to be outside. They like to go to the mall or like to be on the computer.
But for the sake of the family, everyone gets a day, and they pick something, and we all take turns. It’s important to be cooperative, and it’s important to step away from the computer, especially if you have a child that has a hard time or you have a hard time unplugging. I know that our nervous system really gets amped up when we’re hooked into whether it’s media or online or screens. So getting away, whether it’s forest bathing or whatever we want to call it and just relaxing our nervous system really does so much good for us for our physical, mental, emotional health.
[00:11:28] PF: Yeah. So oftentimes when – It was funny. I was interviewing some parents yesterday, and they talk about how they have four children and say three of them will be in agreement on, “Yeah, let’s go do this.” Then one is like, “No, I don’t want to do it.” She said, “So they’ll just go ahead and start it. Pretty soon, that fourth child comes around because he sees they’re having fun. Now, all of a sudden, that FOMO kicks in. It’s like, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe what I’m doing isn’t as great as I thought. Let’s get out there and do it.”
[00:11:54] MH: That’s great.
[00:11:55] PF: But let’s talk about some of your strategies because, obviously, you have a whole workbook full of ideas. One thing I really wanted to jump on is your creativity. You say creativity is a great way to increase happiness, and I was so glad to see that. I’ve got a very good friend in Cincinnati who teaches creativity for kids’ classes. One thing she said is that she sees kids coming out of the pandemic with a lower creativity level. They’ve been sitting in front of screens, they haven’t been interacting, and she’s really having to do a lot more work. So kind of a two-part question is, one, how do we get children’s creative juices flowing again? Then why is it so important to practice creativity?
[00:12:40] MH: So I’m a believer that creativity – We have to be courageous to be creative because you have to be okay with failing. Because when you’re creative, there are things that work out and things that don’t work out, and that’s okay. But you really have to be okay with not always getting it right. So that’s important to nurture that not only growth mindset but that mindset of progress, not perfection.
Then the idea of why is creativity important, it’s important because it gives us an outlet to express our emotions. That’s one. But in another sense, creativity is important because on the very mundane level, like people think they’re in competition, right? But when you get to the creative level, it’s like there’s more than enough space for everyone. Everyone’s different. Everyone’s unique. Everyone has unique talents. It allows for that joyful expression of who we are. So that’s important.
Also, creativity, if you can trust your instincts, you can trust your creative instincts. You can become a little more intuitive. You can get good instincts. You can be in the right place at the right time. Although it’s not directly scientifically tied to happiness, most people who are uber successful have learned how to have. They trust their instincts, and I think that makes them happier.
[00:13:52] PF: So what are some of the things that parents can do to help nurture that creativity and bring it out in their children?
[00:13:57] MH: It depends on the child. I think you can be creative in any field. So you can be creative designing your website. You can be creative in the kitchen, cooking. You can be creative sewing. You can be creative outside. Like right now, I’m doing some landscaping. I had some friends and some other kids come by, and I said, “Well, how would you design this? Like let’s map it out?” So there’s –
[00:14:18] PF: Oh, I like that.
[00:14:19] MH: Yeah. So I’m a big believer. Like ask kids what they want to do and nurture their interests and allow them to be creative. I think sometimes, as adults, we get used to this thing should be done this way. Or this is the only way. But look at the world. Adults have gotten us into a few little hiccups here.
[00:14:38] PF: Track records are not great lately.
[00:14:40] MH: Right. So we really need the creative, innovative solutions from this younger generation. Not that they’re going to solve all these big problems of adults right now, but they are able to come up with creative solutions if we ask them and if we give them freedom, if we allow them to – Sometimes, they’ll fail. Sometimes, they’ll succeed. But give them the freedom to come up with new ideas on how to do something. Even if you help them and say, “All right, let’s decide. You’re going to have I don’t want to say a vacation day or a fun day off. We’re all going to go somewhere.” Think of different options and present it to the family. Like allow them to really get excited about things they think is important.
[00:15:17] PF: Yeah. I love that idea because it feels like there just hasn’t been enough to get excited about lately. I think having even small things that they can really, really get excited about is going to be huge. I think what a great emotional boost that’s going to be for them.
[00:15:32] MH: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. I just saw someone. They have a butterfly exhibit. Well, that’s fantastic. It can be something local. It doesn’t have to be enormous.
[00:15:41] PF: Right. It can be a little day at the theme park or whatever you need. Another thing that you talk about is helping others as a way to boost happiness. One, this is such a great lesson to teach children. Just everything about this aspect is fantastic. So can we talk about that? Like why is it so important to teach our children the happiness quotient of helping others?
[00:16:05] MH: Yeah. It’s a good question. Well, first of all, I think we’re all interconnected, right? We’re ultimately – If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s shown us that we’re in it together. But I would say that the me, me, me self-centeredness experience that we all sort of start out with as a young person, that just brings us unhappy feelings. But when we begin to extend ourselves, helping your friend with the homework, walking the dog for mom or dad, or doing little things to bigger things, we naturally feel helpful. We feel happier. It just gives you that boost. So recognizing the we, we, we idea of like we’re in it together is really something that can help boost mood.
As soon as you help someone else, you forget about your own problems. Like you forget what you were worried about, what you were anxious about. So it takes you out of that thing that’s been troubling you. It can even be something small like, “Mom or dad, what can I do around the house?” It can even be – Some kids are motivated by money. I remember when I was little. This is a silly story, but my parents knew that I always needed a project. I had a lot of energy. I did. I had a lot of energy. They’re like, “We’ll give you a penny for every weed you pick in the backyard.” I’m like, “All right, I’ll take them all.” So you can harness what motivates someone, and they can be helpful, and they can learn, “Oh, I actually enjoyed doing that.”
[00:17:26] PF: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That’s a great way to do it. Then what kind of skills are you setting them up for the rest of their life? Like when they discover, “Wow, if I’m doing something that’s helping others, and it makes me happier,” I think how is that going to change the trajectory of their life?
[00:17:42] MH: It also allows them to realize like, “I can choose a career later in life, or I can choose something to do with my life that feels more fun, more playful, and I can actually get paid for it.” I like that idea because we do need more people who are excited and interested about their work.
[00:17:58] PF: At Live Happy, we talk a lot about gratitude. So you also talk about gratitude. I was so interested that you talk about starting a child on a gratitude journal because we’ve only ever discussed it in terms of adulthood, and I think maybe teens. But, wow, how do you start with a child, start doing a gratitude journal, and start them thinking about gratitude from their perspective?
[00:18:23] MH: Yeah. It’s a great idea. I mean, we can certainly harness technology as well. Sometimes, they want to take pictures of things they’re grateful for. But, I mean, I really love Martin Seligman’s three good things every night, where every night before you go to bed, you think of three good things from the day. Oftentimes, we’ll get up to 10, 15, 20, and it’s really awesome and really feel those. But other days, it’s like, I’m like, “Okay, I got one,” and I’m like waiting and waiting. I’m like, “All right, two. I’m alive. Three, I’m healthy.” So I think it’s the practice. It’s those little habits that help plant the seeds, moving your mind in a more optimistic positive direction and also the idea of being grateful. It’s really feeling the feelings of gratitude, really feeling thankful, and then taking it to appreciation, which is demonstrating that gratitude.
But I think with kids, it’s really not just writing thank you notes and not thinking about it but feeling the feeling and saying, “Mom, I’m really thankful for this.” Or saying to your friend, “Thank you for your help, for lending me your pencil,” like really meaning it. I think those are important lessons because they are lifelong seeds that get planted. Like you said, the more grateful you are, the happier you are. It’s not about –
I guess what I’m trying to say also is like kids really mimic us. So for us to do the best we can to develop a gratitude practice. It could be a journal, but it can also be something out loud, driving to school, driving and go get a cup of tea together in the car. You can say, “All right, what are we grateful for today?” “Oh, I don’t want to do this.” “All right. Well, do it for me. Help me.” You know what I mean? Do it. Make it fun.
[00:19:54] PF: Yeah. I was going to ask. So what if you have a child who’s too young to write and that’s a great age still to instill this practice in them? How would you go about that with younger kids?
[00:20:05] MH: Well, I would make it really playful. Like what are the five things we can be grateful for that are purple? We can come up with –
[00:20:11] PF: Oh, I love that.
[00:20:12] MH: Do you know what I mean? With something that’s just they can hold on to that’s just silly. But they’re beginning that practice.
[00:20:20] PF: Then you just through the years move them into a bona fide gratitude practice.
[00:20:24] MH: Yeah, and to the best of their ability. I mean, I’m not a fan of forcing things. But I do believe that when kids like start to do something, something even simple like three good things, eventually they feel like – Or even I’ve had parents do it like around the kitchen table. Everyone pick one nice thing or good thing they can say from the day. It starts to open up the dialog. Oh, you did that today? Oh, I did this today. Oh, you did that today. It starts to feel good. Like you have a voice in the family, and that’s special too.
[00:20:50 PF: Yeah. I have one friend who he and his wife started this, and now they have two young children. It’s called what went well. So every night at dinner, that’s what they would do, instead of – Because that dinner is a place where you sit down. It’s like, “Oh, my god. You wouldn’t believe what happened today.” Instead, it’s like they sit down and go, “What went well today?” Each person tells what went well. He says after doing that, suddenly whatever didn’t go well, unless it was really big, you kind of feel silly bringing it up.
[00:21:20] MH: That’s beautiful. Because I think that those are the small little low-hanging fruit practices that make a mighty difference for a child and actually for an adult too because I think if you don’t have, I would say, control. But if you can’t focus your mind where you want it to go, our minds are – They’re like little monkeys. They’ll go anywhere. They’ll go to, “What went wrong today, and this went wrong, and that went wrong, and I’m afraid of that. What if this happens?” It’s like, “No, no, no, no. Let’s focus on what went well.” Then your mood boosts up, and then you had the courage to handle the challenges.
[00:21:50] PF: Yeah. Then also, you spend your whole day thinking about, “Okay, what am I going to say tonight?” So you are going through the day kind of looking for what is going well.
[00:21:59] MH: Absolutely.
[00:22:01] PF: You give so many great tips and practices in your book, and it all speaks to your point that becoming happier as a skill. Can you talk about that? How do we start looking at happiness as a skill and taking it on just as if we were going to improve any other skill in our life?
[00:22:17] MH: Yeah. I guess I would say an important point that happiness isn’t static. It’s dynamic, right? We have days that are lemons, and we can make lemonade some days, and other days they’re just lemons. The idea of becoming happier, which would be better than before and improving our mood is a skill. So it’s just like we said, with your friend who did the what went well. It’s like we can intentionally and consciously make choices on what to think, and even when things are really stinky. You can say, “Oh, well. I won’t do that again.” We can learn.
I remember years, decades ago. I showed up somewhere, and I had one shoe was brown, and one shoe was blue. I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” So, I mean, we all do silly things. Just focusing our mind that happier is a skill. It’s a practice. Learning how to do the things that if you think of your emotional toolbox that you put in your toolbox, when you need to feel calm, you do X. You have a whole bunch of tools there to get calm. When you’re feeling angry, this is what lowers your anger. When you’re feeling sad, maybe you write in your journal or talk to a friend or just take a nap and wake up and feel better. You know what I mean?
You do things that allow emotions to go through you and that there are no bad emotions. It’s just really what you do with them. They’re sort of all signposts to what’s going on inside. Beginning to understand how those emotions work is really why I wrote The Happiness Workbook for Kids because it is a skill. It is. I know from my own life, you do certain practices, think certain thoughts. Allow yourself to realize that you do have the power to become happier, and then you become happier.
[00:23:51] PF: That’s fantastic. Can you tell us a little bit about the workbook? Because we are doing a giveaway. People can – After the interview, I’ll tell them how they can go sign up to be part of the giveaway, and we’ll also put it on our website. But tell us about the workbook and what it’s like and what parents can expect from it.
[00:24:06] MH: Great question. So I divided the workbook into three sections. The first is understanding your emotions. The second is expressing your emotions, meaning like expressing them constructively, making smart choices with them, even the tricky ones. Then the third section is becoming happier. So really, like we talked about gratitude. Lots of different practices that help you become happier.
The Happiness Work for Kids is interesting because it helps children go through it and have their emotional ahas. But it’s also something that parents can go through and get some ideas. The other thing that I was so excited and interested is a lot of teachers have been using it in the classroom.
[00:24:45] PF: Oh, that makes sense.
[00:24:46] MH: So that I love because there are certain activities, whether it’s a smart choice, which I explained is it’s good for you and good for others. For example, a choice for you to get your anger out is screaming, but it’s not good for the whole class. So it’s learning how to make smart choices. Oftentimes, parents had to help the younger kids. Like what are some smart choices at school if you feel big emotions? Or what are some foreign choices at home? Because I do believe that if you can pre-pave the path and help children identify the choices they have, they can make better choices. But sometimes, they’re not thinking and they’re reacting so quickly that it’s just knee-jerk reactions. So it’s helpful to go through the activities.
The book that works with this book, I wrote before this book, was The Emotionally Healthy Child, and that’s for adults. This is really the translation of that book for children. It’s really how to give kids the ideas directly that can help them have those emotional ahas and realize that they’re powerful co-creators. They can choose to become happier if they want, and it may take some practice like teachers and books and assistants. But I’m a big believer that nearly anyone can do it.
[00:25:55] PF: It’s so encouraging. I love hearing that. This is a skill that we just do not talk about enough. I love that teachers are picking this up. But I think what a great way to change the world is by teaching the children this skill of how to become happier. So thank you so much for the work you’re doing, for creating this book and this path. I think a lot of us adults are going to take it because we need the ideas, and we’ll use them for ourselves. But, again, thank you for coming on the show and talking about it.
[00:26:24] MH: Thank you for having me.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:26:30] PF: That was Maureen Healy, talking about how to make this summer happier for your entire family. If you’d like to follow Maureen on social media or learn more about her books, visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
Throughout July, we’re celebrating Live Happy’s summer of fun month. As part of that, we’re giving away some prize packs that include great Live Happy merchandise, Maureen’s new book, The Happiness Workbook for Kids, and some other very cool family-friendly gifts. Visit our website or follow us on social media to learn more and find out how to enter.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.