What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was unthinkable. And maybe that is why it was allowed to happen. We have spent the past few decades not thinking about how to take proactive steps to prevent these tragedies from happening. We have not been thinking of ways to teach our kids how to be happy.
We are supposed to be nurturing our children, helping them grown in confidence and skills, not sending them out into a world that terrifies them. The issues surrounding that tragedy in which 17 people lost their lives are anything but simple—gun control, school safety, and family values should all be on the table for discussion. However, perhaps the most important issue that can create true change in the lives of our children is teaching them healthy mental habits early and often.
And in April of last year, we had a chance to do that when a proposal was put in front of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). But we continued to not think: the proposal, which would have amended Florida’s constitution to include emotional literacy in our school curriculum, was rejected. But it’s important to not give up.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to the Doral Family Journal about how America’s school system is utterly lacking in emotional literacy. We talked about a lot of things, but we focused primarily on how the process to get emotional literacy into our schools is slow-going, even if the benefits seem so intuitive. As a country, we spend over $200 billion per year on providing treatment for mental health disorders. We tell ourselves and our kids that the brain is a hardwired organ—you get what you’re given. But we are also investing millions in research that shows that the exact opposite is true.
How to Be Happy? Start in School
What this research shows is that the brain has neuroplasticity. What this means is that, just as the neural connections in our brains influence our thoughts and feelings, so too do our thoughts and feelings mold our neural connections. When we forge new neural pathways—for instance, when we try a new activity or think about something in a different way—we can continue to strengthen these pathways until they become habitual. If we want to create happiness in the world, the best way to do it is by teaching it in schools.
We teach our children some valuable skills in school that help them do more with their lives. To know how to balance the family finances, you need a solid foundation in mathematics. To stay current with what is going on in the world and how it impacts your life, you need adequate reading comprehension skills. Many informed decisions require a basic understanding of science. And those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, so we give our kids a solid grasp of history. The state requires all of these subjects to be taught, and rightly so. We do not, however, teach our kids one of the most basic yet pivotal skills required for a fulfilled life: how to be happy.
As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best? Today.