Well being seems to be the current buzz word. Is it because we have evolved to such a point of luxury and opportunity that we now have the leisure time and opportunity to fine tune our happiness? Or is it because despite having more machines, tools, food, education, healthcare than ever before we are actually in a condition where our well being is worse than in previous generations? For many life is good, but it would appear that there is a disproprtionate number of our youth who are anxious and depressed and just not able to get on and enjoy life.
In order to stay mentally healthy we have to think positively, act positively and interact positively. When we do these three things our brains release a lovely steady flow of all the right neuro transmitters and when this happens we feel great and can cope with just about anything. We all know that exercise makes us feel good - it releases endorphins. Being social makes us happy, being part of a social group, releases different endorphins, thinking positively is a necessary skill in order to be happy. None of this sounds difficult, so why are so many kids starving themselves, cutting themsleves, ruining their mental and physical health with substance abuse? Why are the kids, who appear to have so much, just so unhappy?
There are so many answers to these questions. Diet, exercise, technology, choice, opportunities, debt and on. We have a readily available highly processed, chemical and sugar rich diet which leads to weight gain and health problems, children in general in the west are far less active than they used to be and many children are given devices as entertainment right from babyhood. It is a cocktail which spells disaster for their well being.
It is interesting to note from research on addiction (see 'Rat Park') that since the 50s levels of addiction to drugs rose roughly in proportion to the larger amounts of living space per person. Ie, as we had more space from the people in our lives, we replaced that sense of connection of familial communal living, with drugs. As humans we need connection to feel interested, involved, happy. If we lose that sense of well being we are likely to replace it with something else.
We now live in a world of inter-connectivity. We can chat instantly with whom so ever we wish around the globe, we can ask the internet anything and get answers, we can carry on international love affairs, but yet at the same time there is less and less actual interaction. Our young people have more virtual friends than real friends, they have more virtual conversations than face to face coversations. While this may be understandable it is also clear that this virtual life has begun to replace a real life. We see it happening all the time, whenever you see a group of young people together their phones will be out and all of them will spring to action should the device let them know someone is there, if they ever get off it in the first place. There is little to no respite from the virtual world, leaving little to no time for meaningful, in depth real conversations with real people, face to face. It is easy enough to say, 'being a teenager is hard', 'they will grow out of it', but this is different from grunting at the family and disappearing into your room to listen to records. This is their life, day after day, week after week this would make anyone anxious and depressed as the brain starts relying on the sudden dopamine hits released when messages come in rather than the steady flow of neuro transmitters like serotonin it creates during the course of healthy social interaction.
So what can we do? First of all make sure there is plenty of time spent with people, doing things together, without any technology. Sounds easy enough? But then here is the different part, we need to let our children be bored, we need to let them day dream and switch off their minds. They have to have down time to let their brains relax and to process their day. It also allows them the opportunity to come up with their own ideas. it is all to easy when our kids say 'I'm bored' to thrust a phone or tablet, in their hand and get on with whatever it is we feel is more important. But we need to take the time to show them how to fill and enjoy their own time and allow them the space in which to be bored so that they can then learn to do this for themselves. If we cannot do this, how will they ever learn to fulfill themselves?