Amy the Unicorn and Happiness for Kids


Author of The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, recently spoke at a work conference I attended, and he started his talk by telling this story . . .

Amy the Unicorn

As young kids, Achor and his sister, Amy, were playing war on their bunk beds. Achor had his G.I. Joes on one side of the bed, and Amy’s My Little Ponies were on the other side. Somehow during the war scene, Amy went flying off the bunk bed and landed on the ground on all fours. She had a look on her face that he knew meant she was about to wail with pain and surprise at the unexpected fall. To avoid upsetting their parents, he quickly diverted her thoughts by saying, “Amy don’t cry! No human lands on all fours like that.  Amy . . . I think . . . I think this means you’re a unicorn!”

Amy had a look of conflict on her face as her little brain wanted to devote resources to the pain and suffering she just experienced. Yet she also attempted to contemplate her newfound identity as a unicorn. Somehow the latter choice won and with a big smile she quickly climbed back up onto the bunk bed as if she were a little baby unicorn.

The unicorn incident all those years ago would be the start of Achor’s interest in the human brain, and what later would be called the field of Positive Psychology.Achor’s talk at my work conference aimed to help me and all my fellow coworkers to have a positive mindset to reach our potential — so we can have higher energy levels, and be more creative, happy, and productive. I started thinking about how I can use what I learned to generate tips for kids to be mentally healthy, with a happier mindset.

Tips for Increasing Happiness in Children

  1. Gratitude — Achor suggests journaling three new things you are grateful for each day for 21 days in a row. Journaling about gratitude from the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive the experience. Here is a great journal if you would like to purchase one with prompts. If your kids are not quite at the age where they can write, you could also have a daily conversation about things we are grateful for.
  2. Movement — By moving consistently every day we can teach our bodies that our behavior matters. This can include anything from a daily dance party to a push-up and sit-up competition. We placed a small trampoline in our living room so my kids could get rid of some energy before leaving for school in the morning.
  3. Quiet — According to Achor, when we practice keeping our minds still in either silence or meditation we can recalibrate our brains to get over the multitasking that has become common in our society. Even playing quietly alone can be good for kids. My older son prefers to spend alone time in our backyard and my younger son prefers to spend alone time in his room.
  4. Community — I imagine we all have heard about the importance of community when it comes to our overall happiness. However, I didn’t understand the extent of this until Achor described a study that indicates our perception of the incline of a hill we are about to climb. When we are about to climb with others, we actually perceive the hill to be 20% less steep than if we were about to climb alone. If you are looking to develop relationships within your community look for ways to meet others in your neighborhood (join a Charleston Moms Neighborhood Group), your kid’s school, or even check out Charleston Moms Calendar or Meetup for nearby events.

Achor says 10% of our happiness is from the external world, and the remaining 90% is determined by the way our brains process the world. In other words, the lens through which we view the world shapes our reality.

If we can help our kids to have a lens like Amy the Unicorn, we may just give them the tools they need to be happy.