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Positive peer pressure: How friends can impact happiness

Studies show that happiness is contagious, so we can hope that our children surround themselves with cheerful friends.

Positive peer pressure: How friends can impact happiness

Who would have thought that movies could teach us about happiness? When my children begged me to see the new Trolls movie, I was a bit shocked, however one of the movie's main lessons is how vital friends are in boosting our mood and making us feel happier.

Poppy, the troll princess, is perpetually gleeful and optimistic. She leads the other trolls in singing, dancing and hugging all day long. One troll does not buy into all this happiness. Poppy is constantly trying to get Branch to smile and join the rest of the group in being cheerful all day. Throughout their adventures to protect the trolls from their enemies (called Bergens), we learn that when Branch was a young boy, his grandmother was taken away by a Bergen. He blamed himself for her disappearance because she was distracted by his beautiful singing and did not see the monster approaching. He became sad, losing his color and ability to feel joy.

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Towards the end of the movie, Poppy faces a challenging moment and loses hope. As she begins to turn grey, Branch knows that he has the power to cheer her up. He sings an inspiring, loving song. Much to Poppy's surprise, Branch comes full circle and helps her return to her happy self. The two trolls then hug each other and their color returns, brighter than ever.

This powerful scene shows how friends can make us feel better and pull us out of our darkest moments. Here's what we can learn about positive peer pressure.

How positive peer pressure works

We often hear about the many negative aspects of peer pressure, but there is a flip side to it if harnessed in the right way. As we see in the movie, friends can play a major role in building our happiness. Positive peer pressure occurs when friends try to influence other children or teens to do something positive, proactive, or productive. This encouragement improves the behavior and attitude of the individual, leading to positive change and growth.

Positive peer pressure can influence both thoughts and actions. When children are inspired to think more positively about themselves, their entire life improves. They can overcome negative self-talk and low self-esteem, allowing them to live happier, more productive lives.

Children look to imitate their peers from an early age. Studies show that happiness is contagious, so we can hope that our children surround themselves with cheerful friends. A Harvard Medical School study found that one person's happiness spreads through their social group even up to three degrees of separation, and that this effect can last as long as a year. They actually determined that having a happy friend can improve our likelihood of being happy by 15%.

How relationships impact our happiness

Poppy was persistent in trying to cheer up Branch throughout the movie. Eventually, her hard work paid off so much so that he found happiness, and then channeled it to make Poppy feel better as well. Scientific research in the world of positive psychology indicates that one of the most critical components of happiness is the relationships we have with others.

Happiness experts Ed Diener and Martin Seligman compared the happiest to the least happy people. Their research found that the happiest individuals were highly social and had the strongest relationships. Actually, good social relationships were necessary for people to feel happy.

Additionally, research led by Robert Waldinger at Harvard University that followed the lives of people for more than 75 years concluded that relationships are the key to a happier life. The happiest and healthiest participants in the study maintained close, intimate relationships. According to Waldinger, the people who tend to be more isolated than they want to be from others are less happy, their health declines earlier, and they live shorter lives than people who are connected to others. He also explained that it's not about how many friends we have, but the quality and stability of those relationships throughout our lives that really matters.

Why friends can help reduce depression

Sadly, depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, two out of 100 young children and eight out of 100 teens may have serious depression, causing them to feel discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated or disinterested in life. Additionally, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the United States indicated that 10.7% of 12- to 17-year-olds had at least one major depressive episode during 2013 alone.

One of the best ways for our children to overcome feeling blue is to spend time with their friends. Because of positive peer pressure, a caring, upbeat friend can help improve their mood. In a recent study, scientists found that happy friends can help teenagers beat depression.

Feedback from 2,000 American high school students was analyzed to investigate whether the moods of students influenced one another and if this could impact levels of depression among teens. They found that depression does not spread among peers, but a healthy mood (not feeling depressed) actually does. By surrounding themselves with friends—especially happy ones—teens can significantly reduce their risk of developing depression, and improve their ability to recover from it.

Positive friendships were much more effective than using antidepressants.

So, what does this mean for parents trying to raise happy kids?

It is critical that we pay attention to the type of friends our children are attracted to. If there are any red flags, we can redirect them to more positive choices—friends they can look up to and who inspire them to become the best person they can be and professionals who can help as well. We can also instill the importance of building positive relationships by doing the same in our own lives.

Finally, we can build a positive community for our children from a young age by participating in group activities such as playdates, team sports, community service projects, neighborhood gatherings, and other relationship-building events.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

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This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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