Pondering the waves of life.

Happy Memories Build Resilience

We all have memories. We remember events, people, feelings, scents, experiences and remember them especially well when they involve us. Sometimes we revel in our memories, having a little giggle to ourselves, as we recall a fun camping trip or an embarrassing moment. But at other times we allow our memories to stagnate and replay the negative experiences we have endured.

Fostering and harnessing our happy memories is a skill, a positive habit, and one that we can use to build and use in our daily lives and classrooms. There is significant research, especially by Martin Seligman, which proves a direct correlation between recalling a happy event or experience and improved performance. Jenifer Fox Eades states, “recalling a happy event, perhaps a time we laughed and laughed, suggests to our mind and body that we feel that happy NOW and this produces chemical changes, a release of endorphins, in the present”. So if we know this is the case, we can train ourselves, our children and students, to harness their positive memories. We can learn that we are not helpless victims of our emotions, but there are things we can deliberately do to boost mood.

Most often students can approach a test or classroom experience remembering what they got wrong last time, or what went badly. If a student focuses on their negative experiences then their resilience depletes. This is applicable in all areas of life. Instead train yourselves and students to instead regularly ask yourself the question: “What Went Well?”

This question works to challenge the negative thought processes that often dictate thinking. In a classroom a teacher can be very proactive in modeling this behavior, for children mirror the language of the adults around them. At the beginning of a lesson a teacher can review the previous lesson and prior learning by asking students, “What Went Well” yesterday in class? Having students begin their new learning by focusing on what was successful yesterday builds resilience for the new lesson. Similarly, after an activity I will have students either write or discuss, What Went Well in the lesson? As this becomes habitual in the classroom, it becomes more habitual in their thought patterns. Positive thought patterns then allow students to take more risks in their learning and approach increasingly difficult skills with confidence.

Focusing on happy memories and building on these in learning and life is critical for everyone, but so much so for teenagers. Yes, they will have many negative experiences and some children have more negatives than positives in their lives. But here it becomes essential that key adults in their lives assist them to draw out the occasional happy memory to focus upon and build new happy memories for them. Create fun-loving experiences in your everyday classrooms, allow students to see you laugh and then ensure these memories can be drawn upon later. I will often tell an embarrassing experience from my life, of which I have many, and in drawing out the positives from this moment and having a good laugh, I model how each moment in life can have positive life lessons drawn from it.

We all want to build resilience. We all want more successes in life. What could be easier to assist these outcomes than asking each day the little question, What Went Well?


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