Yesterday, we had a powerful guest speaker, Shawn Achor.  He is an international consultant, author of The Happiness Advantage and the teacher of the most popular course at Harvard for 3 years.

What he shared with us was both powerful and useful.  Here are some of the highlights.

For most of our lives, we have learned (either explicitly or implicitly) a certain model of success and happiness: Become Successful and You Will be Happy.

Vast amounts of research are revealing that this model is flawed.  Instead, it seems that happiness leads to success.

We want to provide experiences that will help our children be both successful and happy in their lives.

This article is about doing that very thing.

As you know, we are partnering with Shawn Achor to study the effects of camp on children.

We met him when I was the chair of the Tri-State Camp conference (the largest gathering of camp professionals in the world) and Shawn was one of our keynote speakers.

He showed us studies that showed that happy minds have greater access to the full capability of the brain.  They are in fact, “smarter”. Positive people also make those around them more positive, productive and content.   Teams (in sports and business) with happy and optimistic individuals outperform those with similar skills but more pessimistic outlooks.

In short, one of the best things we can do for our children is to foster an optimistic and positive outlook.

Here is another powerful finding of his research.

Much of the research is very new, but it is incredibly exciting.  For example, they have found that people can increase their “baseline of optimism”.  Basically, we all tend to have an emotional or attitudinal baseline.  We have happier days and sadder days, but they tend to relate to this baseline.  Some people are very optimistic and their bad days do not seem that bad since they start from a positive place.  Similarly, a really good day for a highly pessimistic person might not seem that positive since the baseline is low.

Their studies have revealed that a person can do certain activities that increase the baseline of optimism – even in subjects over 60 years old.  Put differently, someone that has tested as a pessimist for his entire life can develop habits that will have him test consistently as an optimist after only 3 months.

There are many activities in these experiments, but let me share 5 and the reasons that they believe they help:

  1. Exercise.  Exercise has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressants and is less likely to result in relapses.  Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood.  Also, a successful exercise session gives the exerciser a feeling of accomplishment and control, which correlate with positive outlooks.
  2. Meditation.  The human mind is not designed to multi-task and doing so creates some levels of stress (in the form of cortisol) in the brain.  People who meditate (or pray) for 5 minutes a day manage to undo the effects of multitasking.
  3. Doing random acts of kindness a day.  Doing kind acts with no expectation of reward connects with a very deep part of our minds and social instincts.  We are at our best when we are part of a community.  Cooperating and caring are the glue that holds communities together.  Also, doing kind goals help create a positive self-image.
  4. Journaling each day about something positive.
  5. Writing 3 things that you are grateful for each day.  Both of these last two activities work on the same principal.  When you know that you will be writing about positive things (or things to be grateful for), you prime your mind to “see” more things that are positive.   In essence, you are training your mind to “sort” for the uplifting and happy aspects of your life, thus making them more real.  Your filter shapes your worldview.

Having read this research, we want to incorporate some of its lessons into camp.  In addition to our tradition of  “Grateful Deeds” (public acknowledgements of kind and selfless acts) we will be modeling gratitude each day by including “gratitudes” at flag-raising and Torchlight (our evening gathering).  We also plan to incorporate elements of the research into the Senior Camper (high school leadership) program.  We will ask Senior Campers to commit to do some of these activities while here and see what effects they might have.

Research suggests that the best way to form a habit is to do the same thing every day for 3 weeks.  What a marvelous coincidence.  Camp Champions has a lot of 3-week campers!

If you chose to try these exercises in your own life, we’d love to hear about it.  At camp and in the Baskin house we’ve been making an effort to incorporate them in our daily lives.  I’m very pleased to say it’s working!

Steve Sir