For the next few days, I want to include a couple of chapters of my latest book. It sets the scene really as to why I have made the decision to begin this journey because in reality, even though the events are now many years ago, some scars never heal. To a certain degree, the story shaped my life and had to be written in a way that protects my children. I learned to forgive but can never forget. Strength, Belief and Faith has driven me through. Here is part 1.
The Importance of Happiness to the Learning Process
If we accept then, that children have a period in time in which they learn difficult skills quite quickly where their worlds are unobstructed and in general happy, then it is pertinent as a starting point in our journey towards passing our exams, qualifications or training (or whatever we are seeking to do) to consider happiness as a function of cognition. In other words, is there a link between our happiness and the degree to which we learn efficiently?
When the Challenges Begin
Like any well-oiled machine, the brain can only really handle a certain level of challenge before it will begin to struggle. The thing to realise is, that the extent of the struggle and the level of damage that it can achieve is directly related to the way in which we handle it. Although it is hard to accept, we actually have to own the challenge and begin to make decisions about where it should be channelled. What it is is, taking responsibility. Looking back at the earlier analogy concerning children and the way that they learn so well, it may be argued that this is so for them because they do not have to take responsibility. Most of us look back romantically at those seasons in the sun, when everything just happened.
Sandy remembers those days with a smile, things just looked so simple. The only thing that spoiled the picture was the changes that she was increasingly becoming aware of within the family home. Maybe they were already there but just not apparent to her whilst she was younger. Now, she was becoming aware of the abuse that her father meted out to her mother on an ongoing basis. Her mother was such a sweet lady to her children and worked hard to give them a life that she had not had prior to coming to England. From the outside, the community thought her father was a great father too, working hard and bringing in money to maintain his family. But they did not see those times when things were not done just how he wanted them done. Even if it was one of the children that had made the mistake, he would hit her mother and this lead to a fierce protective streak that she maintains to this day. Although her mother tried hard to mask it for the children, the atmosphere within the house was changing to one of fear, the happiness appeared to be ebbing away. It was a stream that no-one was able to stop.
Sandy was very quiet in her thoughts concerning this, she explained it in a way which demonstrated the actual lifetime effects of stress and how it could have led to quite disastrous consequences for her life. When thinking about the love that she has for her mother, she resents the fact that her earliest memories are those of her father hitting her mother and, sitting in her mother’s bedroom as she changed and seeing the bruises on her. The rage inside was there for such a long time and she recognises that this led to her withdrawal from her childhood life. She took on a new role which was to stick near to her mother so that she was never alone to take a beating. Sandy doesn’t know what she was going to do but inside her, that was all that she could, to protect her mother. The result was that she was now not so focussed on learning new things but on managing adult responsibility. For a brain which is not developed enough to process responsibility, this set her firmly on a road towards a life which was filled with actions which do not match the intended response. Her education during her primary years suffered although as a highly intelligent child naturally, thankfully the damage was not insurmountable. This is something that she remains thankful for today.
From a physiological viewpoint, happiness has been linked to increased activity in the brains left prefrontal lobe, as well as a decreased amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream. The result of this may be smiling and laughing. . Happiness is distinguished from sadness by greater activity in the frontal cortex of the brain (Lane et Al 1997). This has the effect of positive emotional responses. Some of the most well-known are alertness, sociability (arising from levels of Serotonin) and euphoria, (arising from levels of Endorphins)
These are what may be termed physical manifestations but they may fade in time. In general, maintaining happiness may be about understanding the neurochemicals that operate as receptors in the brains cells. This has received much attention in recent years and may lead to the obvious statement that the best times for learning are the childhood years when the levels of cortisol in the bloodstream should be naturally low in any case. I know that this is not always the case and there are some awful cases of children who are unwell or disabled and do have problems which make them unhappy but for our purposes, we are trying to establish a causal link so that the journey towards passing may begin.
In order to start then, we need to get back to that happy place where anything is possible and to do this, in reality, we need to train our brain to only hold onto those issues that are important and to a large extent, let the other matters go. This is not always as easy as it sounds but it is a very very important issue and one which I would ask that you address properly before going onto step two. It is easy to say, ‘I am fine’, without actually meaning it. It is often just a way of not having to think about it at a time when there are so many things to think about. I warn you here though that sometimes, there are not as many things to think about as we are led to believe by our brain. A stressor of any time can lead to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. There are various physical responses which have been identified in studies but the one which we will look at is that of increased mental activity (Guyton 1977).
Some would say, surely that is a good thing. Increased mental activity means that the brain is working harder right? No, not necessarily, it could mean that your well-oiled brain is being told that it needs to take in so many things that it can’t sort out what to do. Learning shuts down right then and there. This would explain why so many examination students stop work quite close to exams and get out the games console. This would explain why, when life takes over, we don’t review our financial decisions to find ways of transforming our lives. When in that happy place, the brain takes over in a more ordered fashion enabling us to learn.
This is great because by talking, some things can finally be let go. Thank you for listening x