Parents filled the Alumnae Room in Danforth Hall Monday morning to hear from Dr. Tim Bono, author and lecturer in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University. US Counselor David Hotaling and MS Counselor Kara Friedman invited Dr. Bono to speak with parents after his successful visits with students and faculty.
Bono wrote When Likes Aren’t Enough: a Crash Course in the Science of Happiness. His talk Monday gave a highlight of what he delves into more deeply in the book, and he began with an overview of current thinking about happiness. It turns out, there are a lot of opinions on the subject. What he’s come to realize is that happiness and wellbeing are on a spectrum. We can’t expect life to be wonderful all of the time, but we should recognize and appreciate those moments that bring us true joy. Instead of setting an unrealistic goal of being “happy,” we should adjust our expectations and work on being “happier.”
He described how studies show a trend towards more generalized happiness until the advent of social media, and he discussed how for all of us, but especially for our children, social media can cause more harm than it helps. Parents and children alike struggle to find true connection and meaning in a digital world where daily posts can glamorize the lives of others. How do you talk to your son who is upset that his friend is going on yet another exotic vacation while your family stays home? What happens when your daughter sees her classmates at a party to which she was not invited? While social media has some positive aspects, fundamental barriers to a sense of wellbeing arise when it’s used primarily for social comparison.
Bono then led a vibrant discussion with parents that ranged from how to set realistic expectations to building a foundation of gratitude in our daily lives to limiting exposure to social media, all of which are relatively easy solutions to implement and lead to a path of being happier. More key takeaways included:
- Tapping into positive emotions creates better outcomes when taking on challenging or stressful tasks, due to an opening of neural pathways.
- Community service and other prosocial behaviors create a boost in confidence and a sense of self-efficacy.
- Adequate sleep is essential for effective emotional regulation and mental acuity.
- We are less likely to suffer the negative impact of media usage when we approach it with mindful awareness. Ask yourself a series of questions: Why am I going on my phone? How is this activity making me feel? How long have I been on? What else could/should I be doing?
Parents shared their stories of struggles and success with each other, and Bono offered his insight and the results of a variety of academic studies. A topic of concern that was raised late in the conversation was about prolific video game usage, particularly by adolescent boys. Questions discussed included, “When is it too much?”, “How can we get them to engage in a variety of activities with friends?” and the best ways to set limits. Dr. Dave Walsh of Mind Positive Parenting offers more information on this topic and a quick symptom checklist.