“I shall take the heart. For brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.” (L. Frank Baum)
These were the words from the Tin Woodman in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and they are supported by the words of the Dalai Lama who once said, “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” In the story, the Tin Man has his heart broken and is unable to show love or empathy towards others. He knows he wants to find his heart again but does not know how.
How is it that having a heart is the key to our happiness? Decades of research from Harvard University suggests that good relationships, rather than money or status, are the key to happiness. From 1939 to 2014, two studies tracked the physical and emotional well-being of male participants over their lifetimes. The only real difference between the studies was that some were Harvard graduates and the rest came from men with less wealthy backgrounds from Boston.
According to the studies, no matter what their financial situation or background, the men who had positive and close relationships with partners or family and friends tended not only to be happier, but also live for longer. Conversely, those who had experienced extended periods of loneliness reported feeling less satisfied with life and were more prone to illness. So maybe the Tin Man was right to covet a heart.
For us at Yateley Manor there are four key areas upon which we focus in order to enhance relationships between staff and children and their families.
Communication, including talking and listening, is key to any successful relationship. Poor communication is often the top reason for animosity and developing problems. We impress upon the children, both explicitly in our teaching and implicitly through our behaviours, to talk clearly and consistently about how we feel so those small misunderstandings do not turn into something much bigger. Our Chill & Chat sessions at lunchtimes have been really popular with children who are looking for opportunities to talk about how they feel. They are a hugely supportive means to allow children to speak openly about their concerns.
When communicating, it is important that we not only try to communicate how we are feeling but also that we try to understand how the other person is feeling. This was a weakness in the Tin Man. He just could not relate to how others were feeling. The problem is, we tend to get so caught up in the way that we feel and we become blind to the fact that others may see things completely differently, especially in times of conflict. Having emotional literacy - the ability to understand how others must be feeling - is an important skill that we should be instilling in our children.
Conflict in a relationship is not an inherently bad thing. In fact, sometimes there is nothing better than a respectful debate to clear the air. The “Forming–Storming–Norming–Performing” model of group development was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. He said that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for a team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results. Differences of opinion are inevitable, but what matters is how you deal with them. Many of us are just not very good at arguing but it is during the second part of the model - and I have seen it so many times - when new teams have formed.
Committing to any relationship means being willing to work on difficulties together and protecting and respecting boundaries, something that takes persistence, patience, and hard work. We are continually encouraging the children to commit and show perseverance in their relationships, even when times get a little tough.
In reading around this topic, I came upon Takotsubo Syndrome (TTS). It is typically provoked by negative stressors such as grief, anger or fear leading to the popular term ‘broken heart syndrome’. Broken heart syndrome is a group of symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, occurring in response to a physical or emotional stress. Interestingly, studies appear to have shown that it is often caused by positive stresses such as winning a large amount of money. Most people affected by broken heart syndrome think they are having a heart attack because symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, are similar in both conditions. Not wishing to be morbid, it is however important to appreciate the effect our relationships can have on our health.
Ultimately, Tin Man realises that his heart has always been there. It was through supporting his friends that he discovered his heart. Relationships are the key. The love for someone can completely transform us as a person.
After all, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.