Tanya Meessmann: (00:00)
I’m Tanya Meessmann and you’re listening to episode three of the Raising Girl Shaped Flames podcast.
Tanya Meessmann: (00:14)
It’s my fundamental belief that every girl has a fire in her belly and confidence is the oxygen to those flames. If you’re the parent of a teenage girl who could do with a confidence injection, listen in as we deep dive into the relationship between confidence and the areas of your daughter’s life it directly impacts, such as happiness, resilience, communication, connection, and much more. I aim to leave you inspired by new ways to build your daughter’s self-belief and nurture her flame from a flicker into an inferno. Alright, alright. Enough with the fire puns already. Let’s strike the match.
Tanya Meessmann: (00:52)
Hi and welcome to episode three of the Raising Girl Shaped Flames podcast. Today we are talking about the relationship between confidence and happiness. When we surveyed over a hundred parents last year, we asked the question: “If you could have one hope for your daughter’s future, what would it be?” And not surprisingly, over 85% of the respondents answered with, you guessed it, happiness. There was a fascinating study undertaken a few years ago by PISA which is run by the OECD and it was the largest ever of its kind and it surveyed over a half a million 15 year olds around the world about a range of topics and there were some really interesting takeaways. Now it might come as a bit of a shock for the parents out there, but on average across the OECD countries surveyed, most 15 year old students were actually considered happy with their lives.
Tanya Meessmann: (01:43)
They reported a level of 7.3 on a scale of life satisfaction that ranged from zero to ten. Unsurprisingly, there were some aspects of it that differentiated the boys from the girls. So for example, it found that boys are actually happier than girls with only 29% of girls reporting being satisfied with their lives, compared to 39% of boys.
Now, if you ask me, both of those statistics are concerningly low, but certainly looking at just under 30% of girls actually feeling satisfied with their lives is quite arresting. So it’s really interesting to start looking at happiness as a concept. And then also as it pertains to confidence. So bringing it back to what we focus on, Girl Shaped Flames. The topic really had me wondering, is there a correlation between happiness and confidence? Is a confident young girl guaranteed to be happy or is a happy teenager more likely to have increased confidence?
To explore those questions and more, I invited Matt Lee on as this week’s special guest, who in addition to having a long and illustrious very senior career in the aviation industry, is also a father of five, including two 16 year old twin daughters. So during our chat, while happiness was the name of the game, we did actually find ourselves wondering into some really fascinating additional areas. We did talk about the challenges that one faces when raising teenage daughter twins. Also looking at what he as a parent and a father feels that he’s getting right. And then what he’s being challenged by as he’s attempting to raise confident and capable young adults. We also dug around happiness for a while, but we made our way into a really interesting perspective on how to actually promote a quality between both his sons and his daughters and teach equality to both of them.
Tanya Meessmann: (03:42)
And finally in line with his very senior career that he’s had. I really wanted to ask him about the parallels that can be drawn between confidence that is harnessed in the workplace by executive women, who are maybe striving for leadership positions, but then also the traits that back home he’s aiming to develop within his daughters to prepare them for the world that awaits them, and the world that he witnesses particularly at a senior level. So we just covered loads and it was really a fantastic chat which we are going to get into very shortly. Straight after the chat obviously we break out the science with Dr Diane Harner’s nine minutes of neuroscience where we really look at how the brain behaves and the teenage brain behaves when happiness is activated. Looking at those reward systems and the undeniable, as she is going to talk to us about, the link that does exist between confidence and happiness.
Tanya Meessmann: (04:37)
So stick around for that. But before we dive in, I just want to mention that this week’s resource is available to download in the show notes. Now Diane’s put together a fantastic happiness infographic that maps out some really fascinating statistics and aspects of happiness that are going to be great for you to reflect on after this episode, and look at how they pertain to your own and your daughters’ lives. So head on down to the show notes when you’re done listening to this episode and grab it while you’re there. Don’t forget to sign up to our mailing list for reminders of when our new podcasts come out each week ,and each week obviously we also deliver the great confidence resources and information for both you and your daughter. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m dying to get into this. So let me introduce Mr Matt Lee.
INTERVIEW WITH MATT LEE
Tanya Meessmann: (05:21)
So Matt has worked in commercial aviation throughout his career, which has seen him living and working in Australia, Malaysia and the UK. He’s held senior executive roles at Virgin Atlantic airways and Qantas Airways and is now the CEO of OACIS, his first startup venture, which is also based in the aviation industry. As a passionate advocate of diversity and inclusion. Matt is involved in various pro bono activities that are focused on increasing the opportunities for underrepresented groups and within that women. He has five beautiful children aged between 6 and 19, three of them are daughters, two of whom are non identical twin 16 year olds. Yikes. Matt, you have your hands full. Thank you so much for taking the time to come and chat to me today.
Matt Lee: (06:08)
Thank you Tanya. It’s an absolute pleasure and hopefully I can say something that’s relatively interesting and relevant.
Tanya Meessmann: (06:16)
I have the list of questions in front of me and I’m really dying to get into it because I think you’re going to be able to provide a fantastic perspective. As we were just chatting about, you know, the importance of fathers playing a role in these conversations has increased exponentially over the recent years as we’ve seen how much the participation of fathers has increased in their daughters’ lives. So I want to start at the top and talk about confidence. That’s what we’re all about at Girl Shaped Flames. As a father of teenage girls, what do you do to try to support the development of your daughters’ confidence?
Matt Lee: (06:51)
We try to be as supportive as possible for the girls and I think having twin girls, who are not identical, they have a lot of similarities but they’re actually very, very different personalities. So it’s almost like I’m a bit of a science experiment cause you know, you’ve got two girls, exactly the same age, same upbringing, but you very much have to tailor your approach to each of them. One’s much more outwardly confident than the other. But the other one is very determined. So they both get there, but through their own different ways. So it’s just about for us trying to be focused on the positives all the time, but also recognising context.
As for the girls they’re very active with their sports, tennis and ballet in particular, and you know, with sports or competing confidence obviously plays a huge part of that. But at the same time, you know, at this stage they’re doing it, you know, to enjoy and have fun as well. So it’s a bit about the happiness. I think where we try and work with them is that within that sporting context, you’re not always going to win or get the the ballet grade that you would like, you know, despite how much you may have tried or, or trained, you might make a mistake or there’ll be someone who’s better than you. So we sort of try and focus on the positives of where you might’ve gotten knocked out in the first round of this tournament, but you qualified when so many people didn’t, and that’s a great achievement. You know, it’s a testament to your training regime and all the hard work you’ve put in. But recognising the context is that, you know, it might mean a different approach for the next tournament or different mindset or preparing yourself in a slightly different way. So not looking at it as the end of the world, like I got beaten or knocked out but you’ve done really well to get there. Let’s think about next time. You know, should you have had an early night or not before, you know, whatever it might be. Because I think that the context becomes important around life in general. You’re not always going to win. You’re not always going to get the deal you want to get, and you’re not always going to get the promotion.
Matt Lee: (09:23)
So, you know, building, children who can be competent, capable adults I think is around this: “Yes, you’ve done some fantastic things to get to here, but let’s get this in context as well because we all need coping mechanisms for those times when we haven’t quite achieved what we wanted to achieve, you know, sometimes through no fault of our own. So being able to deal with that and cope with that, I think, you know, helps, helps the kids become more rounded, more able to go out into the world.
Tanya Meessmann: (09:59)
And have you witnessed them taking that learning around recognising how far you’ve gotten and figuring out how you’re going to get further next time, have you recognised them taking those learnings from the sporting fields into their life, whether it comes to academics or relationships or friendships? Have you seen a bit of a correlation play out there?
Matt Lee: (10:19)
It’s harder. It’s murkier isn’t it? Like with relationships, with friends or, you know, because of all of the pressures that kids ar under, from their peers or society and everything. So I’m confident that they will have, but it’s less clear to me or less obvious that that’s how they’re thinking. But, you know, they’re both, you know, obviously I’m very biased, but they’re both pretty balanced, pretty positive happy girls as it goes. So, you know, I’d like to think yes. Some of that that they’re taking in.
Tanya Meessmann: (10:53)
What are some key things that you’ve witnessed that actually have compromised any of your daughter’s confidence levels?
Matt Lee: (11:00)
Yeah. With the twins, you know, even though they’re not identical, they are always being compared to each other. And as I said, they have very different personalities and learning styles and confidence levels. So I think there’s a little bit of sibling rivalry that you would expect anyway, but I think it’s more, it’s more intense and more obvious when they’re twins.
Tanya Meessmann: (11:21)
And it’s sort of bringing that comparisonitis that they experienced on a daily basis in school, just with their friends, but then bringing it into the household and having it there, waiting for you when you get home as well, which sort of brings on that additional personal, you know, internalized pressure I guess.
Matt Lee: (11:37)
And I think that they’re prone to all that same sort of social and peer pressures, that all girls of their age are and whether it be through social media or school or whatever it is. So, and again, I think, you know, there’s times when there’ll be a good group of them that are going to a movie or going to a party and only one of them will get invited. And that’s good and bad because what a lot of twins find is that they get treated as a single unit, not two individuals. So when one gets invited and the other one doesn’t, that’s good because you know, it’s not like, Oh, we have to have both of them. But also it’s then difficult for the one that’s missed out. So I think things like that, I’ve seen particularly with the one who’s less outwardly confident, have a bigger impact
Tanya Meessmann: (12:29)
And whether you’re a twin or not, I think that it’s so relevant to anyone feeling like they’re being either left out or they’re being lumped into a comparison group when they want to feel like an individual. And those are all things that ultimately do take little knocks at their confidence levels. I want to get into today’s topics. So what we want to look at today is the relationship between confidence and happiness. I wanted to pick this topic because whenever I survey parents or just speak to them anecdotally, if we dive down into ultimately what does any parent want for their child, I would say over 85% of the time the answer is generally happiness. We want them to be happy. We want them to feel fulfilled and okay with everything in their lives. So what I’d like to know is before we look at the comparison between confidence or the relationship between confidence and happiness, what’s your take on happiness as a concept? Because I find a lot of people have different takes on it and it’s good for us to know where we’re starting from here. So what’s your take on happiness?
Matt Lee: (13:37)
I think for me it’s about, you know, seeing that all of my kids are, you know, having fun and enjoying themselves and are as comfortable with who they are as they can be at different stages of their life growing up. You know, it’s not about material things for me, it’s about them seeing that they can enjoy themselves and enjoy who they are.
Tanya Meessmann: (14:04)
So then are we going to dive in a little deeper? We’re talking about the relationship between confidence and happiness. Do you feel there is a direct correlation or what role do you think confidence plays in them being able to achieve a level of happiness?
Matt Lee: (14:24)
I think it’s easier to be confident when you’re happy rather than the other way around. So I certainly think you can be confident without necessarily being happy, if that makes sense. So, you know, being confident and doing things confidently or having an air of confidence won’t necessarily make you happy. But I certainly think that when you’re happy, it’s a lot easier to feel confident, know when you’re happy, you know, you’re feeling better about yourself generally. And I think when you feel better about yourself, that gives you confidence, whether you, or how you display it might depend, but I certainly think you feel better about yourself when you’re happy. And I think certainly for the girls, it’s that there’s a little bit around, you know, confidence coming from the mastery of a topic or a task and it builds from there: “I know I can do this well”. So my youngest has to do something every fortnight. When she goes to school, she’s going to do a little speech to the class. So, you know, start it off one minute and for up to three minutes. And she really dislikes it. The weird thing is, when she practices at home, she knows what she wants to talk about and she’s quite good at it, but just she doesn’t have that confidence. That’s a lot of people, they would rather do all sorts of things rather than public speaking. So, you know, that’s been an ongoing challenge. My wife and I to try and build her confidence up to get to that point. And certainly, you know, we’ve had some very unhappy sessions trying to get her ready for the next day as all parents will recognise.
Matt Lee: (16:18)
I think you can learn confidence and you can grow it. It’s something I think that you can sort of find ways and triggers to go and do things and feel confident about doing it. They’re just learning, you know, how to find ways to be more confident at what you’re doing. So there’s the positivity I talked about earlier, you know, building them up. But I think there’s also resources, it’s also more around the feeling. I think there’s other things more around like a technique or a tool that you can arm yourself with. So I think working on those things, yes you can grow confidence.
Tanya Meessmann: (17:00)
And that then has a direct kind of knock on effect to your happiness levels.
Matt Lee: (17:06)
Yeah, absolutely. I mean they are. It is circular because I know if I know, if my youngest girl goes and absolutely nails that speech she’ll be, you know, happy as Larry for sure. So there’s definitely, you know, it is a virtuous circle.
Tanya Meessmann: (17:22)
I like that because exactly, she comes home and suddenly she’s happier and therefore she’s more confident and the next time she needs to do it she’s going to approach it. Because I think that what’s interesting when we dive into confidence is that confidence is about a belief in your self to be able to positively affect the outcome of something and the belief of your own ability to do something. Whereas happiness is almost about the acceptance of your level of ability or the acceptance of outcomes making you feel happy. So it’s inevitable that they are going to have a direct correlation on each other because they’re to do with one’s ability, and I would say expectations of the outcomes as well. Going back to what you were saying about building up their resilience throughthat positive and that learning and that adaptation. In the last episode we were talking to Michelle Mitchell and we were talking about resilience being the ability to adapt and learn from previous experiences.
Tanya Meessmann: (18:22)
So we’ve got girls who are being taught those types of things from parents like yourself who are building up their resilience and their ability to be agile and, and bounce back from things or adapt essentially is what we were talking about with Michelle. And then that in turn builds their confidence in turn, they managed to achieve things that they want to achieve, which then builds their happiness. However, I guess where, where we want to not see a concerning trend is that you therefore need to have confidence to be happy because we need to be thinking about the girls that maybe intrinsically are not as confident in their own ability, but they still are able to find joy and happiness through other means that don’t require confidence. So maybe it’s family and maybe it’s whatever skills or creative outlets that they enjoy. have you ever had any experiences like that with your daughters where their, their confidence level isn’t quite there but they’re still managing to find happiness?
Matt Lee: (19:22)
Yeah. Again, back to the twins. As I said, they’re a really good benchmark if you like, because they have had the same base personalities since they were babies. You know, one was always more outwardly confident, the other one showed more self doubt, but very, very determined. So, you know, we would be driving in the Bush when they were little babies. We’d say, oh look, can you see the kangaroo and one would say yep. And she’d be looking in the wrong direction completely. And the other one would be looking straight at it saying, oh, I can’t see it daddy. She just had her heart on her sleeve. She couldn’t see it. Whereas the other one couldn’t possibly say not to have seen it, you know, that it had that. So this, you know, nature versus nurture, there’s a lot of that going on with these two. And I think this is where you need the tailoring approach, and it’s hard because, you know, you’ve got kids, you want to use the same approach as you might in the workplace or whatever. Yeah. It’s just not like that.
Tanya Meessmann: (20:27)
How involved do you or your wife get when you can see any of your children’s happiness or confidence being compromised? So in that moment when they’ve had a takedown or they’ve had a failure or something, how involved do you actually get, or do you back right off and sort of just let them figure it out?
Matt Lee: (20:48)
It’s hard, isn’t it? Because it’s heartbreaking as a parent, if anything, the child doesn’t get the outcome that I want. So I guess we do get very involved, but exactly to your point of trying to help them work it out. So sort of help to understand what it is and why, and then work with them to find a solution or to, you know, again, look for the positives. I think it comes back to what I was saying before: firstly you may not have the answer or all the answers. So, you know, helping, helping with this sort of coping with these circumstances and that, you know, resilience, the word you used earlier, you’re becoming resilient around these things. So we’ll get involved to try and provide guidance rather than answers. Ask questions that help them work it out or work or work through it. You try your best in these circumstances. This is not you, but you know, we’re all flawed and don’t always have the answers either for the kids during these times. So I think it’s about, you know, again, being supportive and understanding. Obviously when they’re younger it’s much harder to rationalise the fact that this happened was not the end of the world, as they get older becomes a little bit easier.
Tanya Meessmann: (22:17)
We’re going to finish up on parenting soon because I have a bunch of other stuff I want to speak to you about regarding the very amazing background that you have. I was going to ask you to finish up this section about a parenting technique or approach that’s had the best outcome for you. But I feel like we’ve covered a lot of ground with regards to the positive reinforcement and the resilience development. So I want to flip that and I want to ask, have you had an instance in particularly recent years with the girls at the teenage years where you tried a parenting technique and that did not work, particularly when it came to either their confidence or their happiness? Have you done anything as a parent and gone “No, that was not the right approach”?
Matt Lee: (22:59)
Yeah, probably lots of things. Probably the one thing I think that, I’m not sure if it’s an approach, but the frustration or exasperations of trying to help them through something and just having that patience. Just, you know, everyone’s got busy lives and I think our attention spans have reduced with all of the devices that we’ve got these days. Just trying to have that patience and an understanding. As a 16 year old or a 15 year old, you know, these things were massive issues in your life and there’s certainly been a number of times I will lose patience or be frustrated and not apply the things that I’ve been talking about, many times when that gets away and then you do it and my wife will say to me after “Look at the difference when we’ve made” When you can stay on message and not lose your temper, the outcome is markedly different and it’s there as plain as the nose on your face, but you know, you get tired or you’re distracted. And so I think that’s probably the biggest thing that, yeah, absolutely. Just, you know, parenting is a joy, but very difficult. There’s no manual for you. You’ve got to do the best you can. When you lose your patienceand get frustrated, it has the opposite result of what you’re trying to achieve, which is completely illogical that you’d go down that far. But it’s an emotional reaction, not an intellectual one.
Tanya Meessmann: (24:44)
Hmm. And look, you’re clearly not alone in having experienced that sort of end of tether point that so many parents get to. But I think having that consistent reset point of coming back to things calmly and navigating through them together as a family is something that is so refreshing to see and hopefully setting an example to many others out there who are also weathering these slightly turbulent teenage storms. I’m going to let you off the hook now from the parenting side of things, I may circle back, so be warned, but what I would love to speak to you about, because you have had an incredible career in the aviation industry, so condolences to you at the moment with what’s going on with COVID 19 but you’ve worked in very high levels, in executive levels, with Qantas and Virgin and you’re running your own company within the aviation industry now.
Tanya Meessmann: (25:46)
So what’s of interest to me is that I’m interested to know what role you believe confidence plays for women when they get into those or they’re trying to get into those senior and executive roles. Now, this might not for the parents listening seemed like it directly relates to parenting your daughter. But I promise you, I’m going to circle back on Matt and get him to tell us how it relates. But essentially what’s the role of confidence that you’ve seen actively in the workplace, for women who are either in or trying to get into senior executive roles?
Matt Lee: (26:20)
I’ll answer it first by being non gender specific. Cause I think, for any role, confidence is important. Confidence, your own capability, confidence in the team, you work in the organization. And if you’re in a leadership role, which senior executive roles tend to be, then confidence, certainly outward confidence is really important for the teams that you lead. So in my view is that’s just a truism anyway. I think the question with regards to women and then potentially the link back to how we raise our girls is that, you know, historically as, as society is changing and becoming a bit more enlightened, confident women were seen as bossy or pushy, whereas a confident man was seen as a leader and decisive. So you know, that’s got nothing to do with the women or the men, that’s all about the people making those assessments and their lack of diverse and inclusive thinking. So I think the challenge historically for women was to be heard and seen, this meant in some occasions that you potentially had to act and behave like a man. And if I think about aviation, and certainly in the early days of female pilots, it was very, very difficult for them coming in for a couple of reasons. One: they were in the vast, vast minority to start with and two: they started out in the subordinate role the cockpit because whoever you are, when you start off, you start as a second officer or a first officer because you’re in the minority, then that meant that the captain was, was inevitably a man. So it was very difficult from an agenda perspective for those women coming through.
Matt Lee: (28:27)
And I think, and against personal observation, I think that a lot of the senior and older women who’ve come through probably tended to adopt some of the behaviours that they may have felt got them through as a woman. So I think the confidence is still important. I’ve worked with women or been at organisations where being heard or having that voice can be very difficult if you’re in an underrepresented group. Like women have been historically.
Tanya Meessmann: (29:04)
So then circling back to the parenting side of things, I mean it must be interesting for you to be at work and to be witnessing what women are trying to achieve and what they’re going through in order to achieve. And then coming home and raising young women who may or may not ever want to be in a senior leadership position. But knowing what you know of that environment and that world, what do you think parents could or should be doing to try to help prepare their daughters in case they do have those ambitions and they want to, particularly if they end up finding themselves wanting to work into in a male dominated space. What would be your advice to parents in how they can support their daughters?
Matt Lee: (29:50)
Well, I think there’s a couple of things. There’s one, one I think, you know, as, as a father, you’ve got a key role to play as a male model in terms of modeling the sorts of values and behaviors that you’re talking about. So, yeah, we were very much, you know, there’s no such thing as a girl color or a boy color or a girl toy or a boy toy and those sorts of things. So if my sons wanted to play with the Barbies, that’s not an issue. If my daughters wanted to play with a truck, that’s not an issue because, you know, traditionally those things were seen to be boys’ toys and girls’ toys. I touched on my son there, I think parents have got a really important role to play with with their daughters, but also their sons. Certainly with my daughters I often say to them, you know, there’s nothing that they can’t do. There’s nothing that a boy or a man can do that they can’t do. There’s nothing that they should think that they can’t do because they’re a girl. But equally with my sons, it’s the same story that, you know, just because you’re a boy doesn’t make you better. Or maybe you can do this and the girl can’t do this. If we’re going to break this cycle of society having this sort of male superior view, you’ve got to work on both genders as children.
Tanya Meessmann: (31:05)
I couldn’t agree more. My five year old, bearing in mind this is the woman who runs an all girl organisation, my five year old son is playing with his fire truck and he’s running with a little toy saying “it’s a fire man, it’s a fire man!” And I was like: “You know what, I think that’s a firewoman. I think that’s a fire lady.” And he looks me dead in the eye and goes: “No mum, girls aren’t firemen”. And I was like, well son, you’re going to need to sit down and have a little listen. I’m going to get QFES on the phone and they’re going to give you a couple of things to think about. But he’s five and that’s the perception that’s already a growing. So I think you were so right. It’s incredibly important.
Matt Lee: (31:41)
I think so as well as sort of teaching, teaching those things that weren’t, I guess they weren’t taught that way in the past. That was the default. The default was it’s a fire man. It’s a police man. And you take the profession of nursing, there’s a nurse and then there’s a male nurse, which means that a nurse is therefore female, which is rubbish, you know? SoI think that was the default. So I think actively teaching the fact that it could be a firewoman, it could be a police woman, you know, or that nurse doesn’t mean girl or boy, just a profession. So as parents, you’ve got to model that behaviour and those values. So I think for boys, you’ve got to teach them to be mindful of the fact that they’re not superior because of their gender. But for girls you’ve got to give them more coping mechanisms because society is skewed. And that’s unfortunately what they are coming into. So having those role models, you know, seeing a female pilot or a female fireman or you know, Jacinda Adern in New Zealand is the female prime minister. Those sorts of things I think are fantastic and as you are doing, finding relatable opportunities for kids that are sort of local and real rather than that, that person, that lady on television sort of thing, accessible. But I think just helping your kids to be the be the best they can, the best person they can be and to be kind and considerate. You know, there’s, there’s no secret sauce. There’s no, I don’t think there’s a perfect way to do it. You know, we’re humans, so we’re flawed, we get tired and cross and angry. But I think just staying true to that as daughters.
Tanya Meessmann: (33:46)
Absolutely. And the, and it’s because what is all boiling down to, and again, going back to the beginning of our discussion, what I love so much about your approach with all of your children, but particularly the girls, is that innate commitment to having them understand what they’re capable of and continuing to build their belief in themselves and their belief in what they can achieve and what they can go forward with. And I know reflecting on my own life and journey and in the various senior positions that I’ve held, when I started Girl Shaped Flames and there were a lot of gender conversations going on, I must admit, I was quite honest in my reflections when I said I just never looked around the room and counted how many boys and girls are in the room because I was in the room because I deserved to be there because I was good at the job and I knew how to do it. And that’s why I was there. And when I speak to the girls, that’s what I tell them. My hope for them is always, is that they are growing and developing. And what they should be focused on is their own understanding of themselves. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters, what they’re capable of when they’re in the room, not who the other people in the room are.
Matt Lee: (34:56)
Yeah, that’s right, I think you’re spot on. I mean, you’ll always have a ceiling if you’re focused on the split of gender or race or religion or if you’re not focused on you and doing the best you can and being the best you can be, you’ll give yourself an artificial cap for sure.
Tanya Meessmann: (35:17)
And an unachievable one. It’s out of your control. You’re within your control and you can work on yourself, but you can’t change all of those other factors and people in the room. So I think it’s powerful to know for the girls that they have that opportunity to control how they develop and what they pursue. So that’s amazing. Well. That brings us to the end of our what turned out to be a really comprehensive chat and I’m so appreciative of you sharing a lot of your personal stories and experiences with us, so thank you so much Matt for your time and good luck with everything for the rest of 2020.
Matt Lee: (35:57)
Thank you, Tanya. It’s been fantastic to be on here.
Tanya Meessmann: (00:00)
Well, there you have it, a great chat with father of five, Matt Lee, about the relationship between confidence and happiness in teenage girls. But I did feel like we only just got to scratch the surface there. So when I had my chat with Dr Diane Harner throughout nine minutes of neuroscience this week, I got it to go even deeper. I really wanted to understand what is going on in the brains of teenage girls when they are building their confidence and when they’re experiencing increased levels of happiness. And she came up with the goods. So Diane, happiness, it seems always represented as very light and fluffy, but we know that there’s a lot of serious stuff that sits underneath happiness. And that’s what I’d love to speak to you today. So can you take us through the neuroscience and can the adolescent counselor in you take us through what we need to know about happiness and its relationship to confidence in our Nine Minutes of Neuroscience. And so like always, we’re going to throw nine minutes on the clock starting now – let’s go.
9 MINUTES OF NEUROSCIENCE
Dr Diane Harner: (01:29)
Okay. So the first thing that I want to cover today is: What is the function of happiness? Why are we even happy at all? So what we know is that happiness is our brain’s way of getting us to pay attention to rewarding behaviour. And a way of thinking about rewarding behavior is anything that is in the best interests for us to repeat. So things like eating food and cuddling and achievement, they’re all associated with reward because in some way they enhance our chance of survival. So when our brain tells us that we are doing a rewarding behaviour that it wants us to repeat, it gives us the feeling of happiness, right?
Tanya Meessmann: (02:16)
So what’s going on in the brain when we’re experiencing these rewards?
Dr Diane Harner: (02:20)
So there’s two chemicals or neurochemicals that are associated with happiness. Now, the first one I want to talk about is called dopamine. So dopamine is very much associated with reward and anticipation of reward. What’s really interesting about dopamine in teenagers is that we know there is a higher amount of dopamine released in association with reward and they are particularly sensitive to reward associated with novelty. And this is why we see so much behaviour associated with risk going into uncertain situations and unfamiliar situations and often unsafe situations.
Tanya Meessmann: (03:05)
So they kind of getting a little kick out of that. A little boost.
Dr Diane Harner: (03:07)
Yeah. Whenever they do something new, the brain goes, it’s really cool to find out about stuff, have some dopamine because I want you to do that again. So what we also know about dopamine is that we get a nice little hit of dopamine whenever we set a goal and we achieve it. So whenever we set a goal, we are expecting a reward on the other side because there is achievement associated with that. And our brain loves us to seek the rewards that we are predicting. So whenever we set a goal and we achieve it, we get that lovely shot of dopamine as well, right? So the other neurochemical that is associated with happiness is called serotonin. Now serotonin is a lovely chemical to have on board because it actually reduces our sensitivity to rejection. And what that means is that if we have higher levels of serotonin, we will be more inclined to put ourselves out there and to take more personal risks because we’re not so concerned about judgment.
Tanya Meessmann: (04:15)
So that’s fascinating that we always refer to these bigger concepts around courage and bravery and having the ultimately confidence to go and do things that you haven’t done before. And it turns out there’s actually a chemical in the brain that is preparing us and giving us almost that, that courage and that confidence. And so can you get more of it? Can you build it?
Dr Diane Harner: (04:39)
One of my favourite things to say is that all of our behaviour is just electric and happiness and confidence and resilience is all associated with the messages that are going around in our brain and the chemicals that are making those feelings happen. So with regards to serotonin, we also know that it is associated with purpose and meaning and accomplishment. So whenever we do an activity and we can say, I did it, I accomplished that, I achieved that, our brain gives us a lovely hit of serotonin then so if we want to increase the serotonin that we have, it’s a really great idea to challenge yourself so you can have that feeling of accomplishment. And of course when we have that feeling of accomplishment, that also impacts our confidence because confidence is about belief in our own abilities.
Tanya Meessmann: (05:37)
So there’s chemicals building our confidence inside our body clearly.
Dr Diane Harner: (05:40)
Yeah, that’s right. And both the dopamine and serotonin work on what’s called a positive feedback mechanism. So what that means is that the more dopamine or serotonin we get, the happier we are, the braver we are to sort of put ourselves out there. And the more reward we experience. And when we have those positive emotions, we get more serotonin, we get more dopamine, which makes us even more happy and, you know, willing to take more risks. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.
Tanya Meessmann: (06:17)
I love that you just mentioned confidence because Matt and I were obviously just chatting and one piece of the conversation came down to, and this is an area I’m particularly interested in, is whether there’s a hypothesis around people who are confident are therefore happy or people who are happy are therefore confident. Now I thought those are being presented as absolutes and there’s always variables involved. But just as starting points, what’s the neuroscience behind the relationships between happiness and confidence?
Dr Diane Harner: (06:53)
Well, we know that confidence and happiness are linked in some ways because it’s actually the same areas in the brain that light up when we’re happy that light up when we’re confident. So it’s primarily the prefrontal cortex, which is that front part of the brain, which is sort of our logical, rational goal setting part of the brain and the ventral striatum, which is our reward center in our brain. So they’ve done lots of imaging experiments where they’ve looked at people when they have a sense of confidence and these areas of the brain light up. And when I do the same experiments in people that have a feeling of happiness, they also see these areas of the brain light up. And we know that when we feel confident it is often associated with some kind of accomplishment or being on purpose. And because we know we get that shot of serotonin or shot of dopamine at the same time, which are, you know, is responsible for our happiness. That’s how we know that confidence and happiness are linked. But having said that, happiness can come from all sorts of places. So it’s not only a result of being confident, it’s absolutely possible to be happy even when you’re not confident. And none of us are confident 100% of the time.
Tanya Meessmann: (08:21)
So I guess then should we assume that if we all sort of run around doing things that just make us happy, that that’s going to directly feed into building our confidence? Is that what parents should be encouraging their daughters to do is just do things that make you happy and therefore you’ll be confident?
Dr Diane Harner: (08:38)
One doesn’t necessarily equal the other because there are many, many different ways of being happy and happiness is actually made up of two things. So there’s what’s called hedonic happiness, which is really associated with pleasure. And when we engage in those things that really make us feel great in that moment, like eating a yummy chocolate cake or you know, cuddling somebody that you really care about. We have, you know, an immense feeling of pleasure in those times, but that sort of hedonic pleasure can be fleeting. And so we have it in that moment and then it passes. So the other type of happiness we can have is called eudaimonic happiness, sorry. And so this is more associated with the focus on having meaning in our lives and, and self realisation and self actualisation. So when we are engaging in our activities that make us feel good about who we are and what we’ve achieved and what we’re capable of, that’s when we have those eudaimonic feelings of happiness. And I would say that confidence sits there. It’s more associated with that sort of eudaimonic happiness as opposed to the hedonic feelings of pleasure.
Tanya Meessmann: (10:02)
So then would it be safe to sort of advise the parents that on the one hand, if you’re seeing your daughter show certain levels of confidence with areas of her life, that it’s really, it’s a good idea to encourage your daughter to keep doing more of those things that she does feel confident about because then they do translate. Generally they’ll translate into a sense of happiness. And then on top of that, coming at it from an happiness angle, if you see things in your daughter’s life that make her happy and bring her joy, then encourage her to do more of those things because that will then build up her confidence further and it might even seep out into other areas of her life. I mean, we were chatting previously about, the analogy was singing. If there’s a daughter who particularly loves singing and you encourage her to do more and more of it and she feels that happiness and joy and it builds her confidence with singing, chances are it willalso build her confidence to go and speak in front of a group of people or to voice how she feels about something. So would it be safe to say that would be the advice to the parents?
Dr Diane Harner: (11:07)
Yeah, absolutely. When we see our daughters joyful and happy and you know, really in their element, we of course want to enable these kinds of behaviours. But it’s equally as important to look at that eudaimonic happiness and help her to engage with what makes her feel good about herself. What does she value in this life? What is her purpose? And that’s kind of a heavy concept for a teenager about really encourage them to engage ingoal attainment and goal achievement and goal pursuit. Because there is a lot of advantages at a neuroscientific level, when we feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment, we get that lovely upregulation of dopamine and serotonin. And of course that makes us feel happier and it makes us feel more confident, so we want to keep chasing that.
Tanya Meessmann: (12:10)
Oh my goodness. So good as always. We’ve covered pretty much the most neuroscience we’ve ever covered in a nine minute session I would say in this one. Big words, big words, few heavy topics there. Diane has very generously put together a happiness infographic: for anyone listening, if you want to just pop over to the show notes and you can download that and it maps out what we’ve talked about today in a really digestible way so that you can spend a bit of time reflecting on it and see whether you can identify some of those behaviours in your own daughter and wider family.
Tanya Meessmann: (12:48)
That’s our nine minutes up. Thank you so much, Diane. Really appreciate your time today and we will see you again next week.
Dr Diane Harner: (12:54)
Yep. See you next time.
Tanya Meessmann: (36:00)
And there you have it. What a fascinating chat with a father who really is navigating some fairly challenging waters there raising five beautiful children. As always. Thank you for listening to today’s episode. I hope you come away from today really looking at your daughter’s happiness, what stimulates it, what reduces it, and whether you also notice a correlation between her happiness and her confidence levels. I’d love to know what you do observe over in our Raising Girl Shaped Flames Facebook group if you haven’t already. Come and join the conversation there and don’t forget to head over to the show notes and download Diane’s free happiness infographic I mentioned earlier. Next week we are mixing it up again and we’re hearing from an outstanding young woman, Katura Halleday. She’s an award winning fifteen-year-old humanitarian and social justice advocate. And we’re going to talk to her about her take on the relationship between confidence and assertiveness, including whether you actually need to be loud and extroverted in order to pursue and achieve your goals. So make sure you don’t miss out. Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts from. Sign up to our mailing list for reminder, and until then, keep fanning those flames.
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