Article written by LaTricia Morris, CIWC LaTricia Morris is an Integrative Wellness Counselor, Writer, Author, Illustrator & the Founder of See Kids Thrive. LaTricia is an avid-health enthusiast committed to helping families like yours maximize their life potential and realize their greatet dreams.
When talking about health, nutrition and wellness, we can get so caught up in micromanaging each nutrient, afraid of the ramifications of not getting enough protein (which is so ridiculously rare in our country) or not getting enough magnesium or calcium. However, there is one factor that probably couldn’t be more critical to a child’s development yet receives so little attention.
While we’ve all heard about the importance omega 3’s in brain development, maybe even about the connection between B vitamins and stress, we hear very little about one intangible factor that can directly hinder or boost our children’s capacity to grow, learn and thrive: Joy.
When the brain is in a state of fear or in “fight or flight” mode, it is wired for survival and cannot retain information as readily as when it is in a relaxed, peaceful, joyful state. Not only does negativity impair learning but it also weakens the immune system and primes the body for sickness and disease while positivity possesses the power to enhance resilience. Joy isn’t just desirable, it’s medicinal.
Scientists and researchers have been dedicating much energy and effort in helping us understand how joy and positivity effect brain development and function. While many have understood that what we think effects the way we feel, science is now proving that what and how we think directly alters the terrain of the brain.
That’s right – positivity & negativity directly affect how the proteins in the brain form and trigger the release of stress-related chemicals in the body. Toxic thinking puts a lot of wear and tear on the brain. Chronic low-joy environments not only reduce children’s capacity to enjoy life but they also impair their learning ability. If that in itself isn’t incredible, it has also been found that how we think also affects activation of DNA and the resulting genetic expression.
Without getting too technical here, what we’ve learned is that health is not determined by heredity. Heredity is not destiny but rather a genetic predisposition. How we eat and how we think play the greatest roles in determining whether heredity becomes our reality. When we indulge in toxic thinking, the signals being sent from our brains into our bodies that activates disease-promoting DNA.
The beauty of this is that as we learn to gear ourselves toward positivity, we simultaneously boost our immunity, growth and overall state of wellness. Joy increases our children’s capacity to learn, to be creative and to function efficiently – all factors that support success in their education and careers.
Happiness vs. Joy
So often, we confuse happiness with joy and cater to the constant demand for more happiness. Americans plow each other over in hopes of getting their hands on the latest and greatest gadgets just to see that smile on children’s faces when they take hold of it. Yet, we also see many parents stressed to the max who are otherwise failing to make the genuine connections with their children that they so desperately need.
We see a smile when we let them do this or have that but often fail to see where those smiles are but a mask concealing deep hurt and hunger. The things we say and do that seem so small to us often speak volumes to our children. Some parents believe they’re giving their children “everything” because they buy them virtually everything they want but are completely blind to the many ways they tear the child down through words and actions – constant disappointment in the child, ignoring the child, name-calling…the list could go on.
So many families are foregoing family meals or struggling to engage in genuine conversation. Go to any restaurant and you’re sure to easily see tables full of family where there’s little interaction as each is too distracted by cell phones and social media to truly appreciate the people they have sitting right next to and across from them. How about enjoying “Family Movie Nights” where no one looks at or talks to each other but still call it “quality time.” Don’t get me wrong, we love movies too but we also have to see the difference between family time and group entertainment.
People have spent so much time developing gadgets and gizmos to help us accomplish tasks more quickly in hopes of having more time for family. Yet, live in a day where all that convenience so easily paves the way for more distraction from those that should matter the most. We let comments and replies nickel and dime our time to the point of regularly losing hours of precious memories we’ll never have the opportunity to get back.
In this, we not only rob ourselves but our children as well as so many of them are now being primed for a lifetime of joy-less distraction.
Low-joy environments are not only linked to a decreased learning capacity but also to an increase in toxic behavior such as promiscuity and drug addiction. A person deficient in joy is substantially more likely to seek to supplement with pseudo-joy, false-positives and other things that trigger temporary feelings of happiness.
Joy. Love. Sincerity.
These are things I believe we really have to take back and impart upon our children if we wish to see prosperity accompany the generations to follow.
As parents, we have a great tendency to place a great emphasis on reshaping the conditions in which our children will grow up. Having grown up considerably poor, I can absolutely relate to the desire to give my kids more than what we had as children. However, when we get so caught up in giving them the advantage in terms of resources and material comforts, we often fail to miss where they may be moving forward with one of the greatest disadvantages of them all.
Where Joy Can Be Found
Learning all of this and more demanded that I put more thought into my own parenting while my children were still very small. I had to start making conscious connections, seeing where I could be a real joy-killer when I hit that wall and just needed one stinkin’ moment of silence. I see where I have to make a steady effort toward making genuine joyful connections with my children and to not steal their joy when I can’t seem to find my own. The awesome thing is that in doing so, their natural tendencies toward joy, when nurtured, can promote joy in those around them. Sometimes all it takes to hit that “reset” button on the day is slowing down for a moment to take them up into my arm and reaffirm my affections.
The greatest joy is imparted through acts and expressions of genuine love. Giving a child a gift isn’t a bad thing. Gifts are considered one of “the 5 love languages.” By all means, gift away but realize and help children see that gifts are not a measure of love and affection but only a demonstration of it.
Generating joy need not be expensive or even strenuous. It merely involves a little extra time and the expression of your genuine affections. Joy feeds off of joy and children are already excellent joy-generators. Enjoy jokes, crafts and tickle time. Enjoy multi-generational interaction. Break out board or card games like people actually used to do before everything went digital. Don’t just eat dinner together, make dinner together and enjoy making memories in the process. As parents sow the seeds of love, our children reap harvests of joy.
While I absolutely appreciate the critical role of sound nutrition in child development, I’ve become increasingly convinced that little can have such an impact on the “Success Story” of their lives as love and joy. Joy is precious, invaluable and free. It is something so many are desperately lacking which we can all so readily give. Anybody can change another person’s life. Be the kind of person that changes it for the better.
Be sure to SHARE this article with friends and family as we work together to reshape the future for our children and the many generations their lives will impact.
Looking for ways to put this knowledge to work? Check out our article on Ways to Boost Joy in Your Household & Community.
Other resources you may find helpful: Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health by Dr. Caroline Leaf, Joy Starts Here by Dr. Jim Wilder, Joy provided by Kids of Integrity at http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/joy.