RSVP Magazine

Health: Having It All Except Happiness

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Today’s generation have never had it better; we are living longer, are healthier and have more money. In many ways, we have everything previous generations could only have dreamed off. And yet, something doesn’t add up. Despite all the benefits we are reaping, mental health issues continue to escalate and the research indicates that our children are growing up to be unhappier than previous generations.

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According to experts, this can largely be explained by the pressures of the modern world in which we live. Today’s social pressure can be immense. Our youth have grown up with social media and from an early age are learning to document their entire lives online. Every triumph and failure is available for all to see and, more crucially, to judge and share their approval or disapproval. Self-worth is increasingly dictated by friend lists, followers and the number of likes a picture receives.

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This increasing spotlight on “the self” has a lot to answer for society’s unhappiness according to psycholinguistic consultant, Gillian Bridge, who explains: “We have become used to thinking that life should matter and have meaning, and very importantly, that we, as individuals, should also matter and have meaning.” When our sense of what is important is upset, this leads us to feel disrespected and results in neurobiological and psychological changes such as depression and anxiety. “Essentially it’s down to intense self- focus,” Gillian explains. “We no longer see ourselves as parts of a bigger whole, but the drift is towards seeing ourselves as separate, special, and entitled. We can’t all be, these expectations are hugely unrealistic, and therefore we end up designificanced – with the inevitable outcome of those conditions (depression and anxiety).”

So what can parents do, to ensure their children are growing up to be happy and well-adjusted adults? First and foremost is to consider your own well-being. Gillian says: “We need to look after our own health, as epigenetics is saying loud and clear that future generations’ health, both physical and mental, depends on what we do to our bodies – now.”

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Secondly, we need to reduce the amount of stress and hyperactivity in our day-to-day  lives. The impact this stress may have on our children dates right back to when they are still in the womb, according to Gillian, who reveals that maternal anxiety can lead to key changes in developing brains.  The key may be to pare everything right back to basics, and question the importance of what it is we are worrying about, and why we are trying to juggle so much in our day-to-day lives.  If your children currently partake in an extensive list of activities, Gillian advises trying to scale back. She says: “Let them be bored, under stimulated, quiet, even reflective – and let us calm down and help them live lives more to do with their fundamental physicality, to enjoy their embodied lives much more, too.”

The experts will tell you that the most important thing you can give your child is your presence – not a host of increasingly sophisticated gadgets, warning that while seen as the silent babysitter it can often lead to more problems than it solves. This stability and consistent presence in your children’s life, according to Gillian, sets the groundwork to being there, to aid them through their course in life without controlling it. “Let’s give them the emotional strength from birth, give them the necessary information, and then let them get on with it – they should be stakeholders in their own lives,” she says.

Above all, our continuous strive for happiness is for most of us only ending in disappointment and a consequent sense of failure. Instead Gillian advises that the best way to achieve happiness is to stop focusing on the self and instead shift our concentration to our place in the wider community.

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In addition, we should go back to basics and focus on looking after our fundamental needs before anything else. “Focus on your physical selves much more,” she says. “No, not buying a shampoo because we’re worth it, but taking exercise, eating well, and sleeping more. Let’s get away from implausible notions of whole cities partying the night away, and realise we are, underneath all the glitz, still just animals, and we wouldn’t put that sort of pressure on to a dog.”

The Significance Delusion – Unlocking Our Thinking For Our Children’s Future by Gillian Bridge is out now, published by Crown House Publishing, priced €16.99. For more information, see www.gillianbridge.co.uk

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