If your kids are feeling sad, should you tell them to “put on a happy face” despite it all?

Faking happiness often makes us feel worse, as I reported last week and in this post “Fake it till you make it.” But there are loads of ways to help our kids (and ourselves!) move on from bad feelings. (Before you try this at home, though, please read last week’s posting about how to accept and deal with the negative feelings that you ultimately want to move past. Skip part one at your own peril.)

• Have a DANCE party. Putting on some music you enjoy and dancing around is a research proven way to feel good.

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• Find a way to LAUGH. My kids like to watch funny animal videos (check these out) for quick laughs. Laughter lowers stress hormones (even the expectation of laughter can do this) and elevates feel-good beta-endorphins and the human growth hormone.

© Christine Carter

SLEEP it off. Sometimes, we have a hard time recovering because grief and other negative emotions can be so draining. Taking a nap—or just hitting the hay early for the night—can work wonders.

• Take a WALK. When we’ve been really angry or had a “fight or flight” response, physical activity helps clear the adrenaline out of our system. And like happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says: Exercise may just be the best short-term happiness booster we know of.

PLAY with some FRIENDS. This is my go-to feel-better solution (maybe because my friends make me laugh). In this case, seek friends out not to tell them all the reasons why you’ve been feeling badly, but rather to have some fun. The idea is to goof around a little.

• Practice GRATITUDE. Feeling and expressing gratitude makes most people feel happier and more satisfied with their lives; it also comes with the added benefit of bringing a larger perspective to the picture. Say your son was feeling down about a baseball game where he didn’t play well and his team lost. Making a list of things he feels grateful for—clean air to breathe, hot showers, enough food, perhaps—can make the bum game suddenly seem insignificant.

• Give out some HUGS. Dacher Keltner’s studies show that touch is the primary language of compassion, love, and gratitude—all positive emotions. Read all about the way that hugs make us feel better in Keltner’s terrific book, Born to Be Good, and in this essay.

• Find some INSPIRATION. Elevation, awe, and inspiration are some of my favorite positive emotions. This video of Libby Sauter is instant inspiration to me and my kids. Many videos of tightrope walkers give me goosebumps, but this one makes me cry (in a good way, of course, though this could be confusing to kids if what we are trying to do is feel better). The music, the nature, the fact that Libby is so surrounded by her friends—how could I not feel elevated?

Notice that none of these things are the numbing behaviors described the Brene Brown video in this post. We are moving on rather than dulling and denying; we’ve already felt the bad feelings, and now we are letting them go.

We adult humans have a long list of ways to avoid feeling bad in the first place, of ways to dull the pain. We drink alcohol and take drugs; we overeat and gossip; we have affairs and go shopping for things we don’t need; we keep ourselves too busy to feel anything; we compulsively check our phones and email and Facebook. These are not happiness habits, and they are less necessary when we’ve already accepted our negative emotions and moved on.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely once said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Cheers to the new day, or just the new hour! What do you do to start a new, or to feel better? What helps your children do so?

© 2011 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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