Knowing the News

We are so hooked up to potentially knowing so much of what is happening in the world. In times gone by we might have known about what our neighbours were up to but we wouldn’t know about some distant happening because it was so distant. Now we know a lot and we know it pretty much as and when it is happening. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Knowledge is good, we must know.  It would make sense in some way that our enhanced ability to know, means we now have an enhanced ability to act, to make changes. I am not someone who consumes news. But I tend to check in on what’s happening in the world some of the time and when I do, I am often left feeling unsure of how to manage the things that I now know, I am often left feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Yes sometimes there is scope to make donations, sign petitions, spread awareness, enter the debate… but still. Over the last couple of weeks headlines such as, “Cape Town Schools resort to Exorcisms”,  “Dad made children phone their mom while he slit their throats” and the image of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body have pretty much left me reeling. Like most people in the world threatened, frightened and hurt children break my heart.

I am new to the world of twitter. I still feel like a total twitter impostor, even saying the word hashtag in a sentence still makes me giggle, like I’m totes using the language of the youngsters! I celebrate every new follower (not with anything too dramatic just an excited little report to my husband that lets him know, someone out there follows me- ok not many!)  That said, twitter has fed me these bite sized chunks of sad and disturbing news but at the same time it has also exposed me to interesting and inspiring articles. One such article came my way last week by Jennifer Moss writing for the Harvard Business Review entitled Happiness isn’t the Absence of Negative Feelings …  In her article Moss shares pioneer of Positive Psychology, Martin Selligman’s acronym PERMA which encompasses a model of achieving overall well-being and happiness.  I briefly share the 5 elements of this model here:

  • P- Positive Emotion – This refers to having pleasurable feelings like happiness, love, inspiration etc
  • E-Engagement- This refers to doing activities that you lose yourself in, where you are in flow and time disappears because you are lost in the activity
  • R-Relationships- This refers to having positive connections with others.
  • M-Meaning- This refers to doing something that is greater than you. It’s what we describe as giving our lives purpose.
  • A-Accomplishment/Achievement- This refers to doing things that give us a feeling of accomplishment.

Truth be told the cynic in me had always had some sort of inherent aversion to anything related to Positive Psychology.  I had perceived it as a syrupy sweet, inauthentic and unsubstantiated way of viewing and responding to the world. I increasingly see through my readings, through my practice as a Parent Coach and through my personal experience that my initial perceptions were uninformed.  Each element is a good thing to strive for, it’s something we can do. Moss’ article reminds me of my immediate sphere of influence which starts with myself and moves to my family. How great if we can have happy, engaged, connected children who have a sense of purpose in their lives and strive to accomplish new things?

It does not diminish, ignore or deny the badness in the world nor the sadness that that badness brings but it definitely gives us something to help manage it, I think. I definitely don’t have it all sorted in my head, but I know that Moss’ article made sense, particularly in the midst of so much senseless action. I guess what I’m saying is that in a world where we are so inundated with sadness and cruelty and  the sense of helplessness that that brings for many of us, it’s good to have some factors to strive for in our own lives which can help us maintain a sense of well-being so that we are not crushed by the knowledge that we have but rather can potentially make some meaningful changes, albeit starting small. We have to start somewhere and small ripples can lead to big waves that can hopefully help us impact greater change.

I was chatting to my two sons at supper last night and asked them what happiness meant to them. My 6-year-old said it was rebuilding a sandcastle with someone together if they knocked it down by mistake. (He didn’t say what would happen if it was on purpose…) My 9-year-old said that happiness was just having time together with us as a family. These beautiful sentiments were expressed minutes before both boys proceeded to get into a massive death-defying physical fight but still it was truly lovely at the time. It feels important to cultivate an understanding and a culture of happiness in our home and not in a Lalaland kind of way where we all continually tell each other that the other is fantastic and makes us happy even when we cannot stand them. Happiness needs to be grounded in reality and reality means that sometimes the person we were lovingly engaged with seconds before can quickly become the embodiment of all things gross and evil. But at the very least lets recognise and amplify the good when it’s good so that we are able to recognise it more and hopefully enhance more of that stuff.

My 6-year-old saw the awful image of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on the front page of the newspaper and he asked me what had happened. I shared with him what I knew from what I had read. He said that that’s a sad story but it’s not the saddest story, the saddest story would be if his brother and myself and my husband had to die. I generally try and filter and protect my sons from knowing too much news, they have their whole lives ahead to deal with knowing the news. At this point I can try my best to help them grow into happy, connected, engaged people who are able to meet challenges, find meaning in the world and manage the harsh realities that our world presents and hopefully their engagement with the world will be a positive one.