Our community is about learning. That means opportunities to think and grow are consistently offered for Wildwood students, faculty, and parents. This past week, I enjoyed engaging with over two dozen Wildwood parents who took part in Book Club discussions on both campuses. The seasonal gatherings are sponsored by Wildwood’s Parent Education Committee. This session’s read: Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson.
Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist whose work addresses the brain science of happiness. Too often, peoples’ thinking is clouded by fears and worries, according to Hanson. He believes that our brain’s capacity to establish new neural pathways, called neuroplasticity, can allow for less anxious thinking. His book provides concrete strategies to help people firmly establish new, more productive ways of thinking.
In co-facilitating these discussions with my colleague, Melinda Tsapatsaris, Wildwood’s Assistant Head of School, we opened by asking parents to think of and share a recent positive experience. Most related meaningful interactions with children or a partner—experiences that made them smile, feel appreciated, or loved.
Next we asked the assembled parents to apply some of Hanson’s theory—to extend their thinking: enrich the experience—fill the brain with thoughts of it for at least 10 to 15 seconds and recognize its importance—and absorb it—visualize the experience settling in and soothing the mind and body.
I enjoyed sharing Dr. Hanson’s thesis in Hardwiring Happiness because I found it much more than a simplistic treatise on the power of positive thinking. Rather, he argues—with a wealth of evolutionary and scientific research in support—that taking these additional cognitive steps can help us re-configure our neurons, and actually make us happier.
After enriching and absorbing their positive experiences, as Hanson advises, Melinda and I led the group through a discussion protocol we call “Block Party”. Each parent chooses a card printed with a salient quote from the book. After reading the quote and making a personal connection to it, each person seeks out a partner in the room. The partners share their quotes, describe their significance, and identify connections.
Enhancing Happiness Takeaways: Parents and teachers can help kids’ brains develop a propensity for happiness—much the same way developing a penchant for math or reading. For adults—it’s never too late to change our own, more mature brains for the better.
At Wildwood these practices are exercised daily. Our students are continually asked to forge and nurture meaningful connections—both to the content they are learning and to one another. Our seasonal Book Club gives parents that same opportunity to connect with ideas and individuals. Deep insights and real relationships: the heart and the brain of a Wildwood education.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning