Unified Caring Association (UCA) loves sharing with our caring community. The topics that we love to share often relate back to emotional intelligence. One component that is closely relates to emotional intelligence in empathy. There is just one troubling thing. We often have a hard time describing what empathy is and how we teach it to others. In our search for more information on empathy we have come across some great examples on how to bring more empathy to the world and our caring community. Let’s start from the top…
How can we define something like empathy?
In short, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of one or more people. We can take this definition a step further. We can add that we are then are able to express our feelings and connection with the others. This requires one thing, active listening with our whole being by using our eyes, ears, body language, minds, and more. This is because listening is a strong way to show that you care about the other person and the topic that they are passionate about. Brigette Hyacinth has a good point about listening, “The quality of our listening determines the quality of our influence…[and] listening transmits that kind of respect and builds trust.” (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/empathy-most-important-leadership-skill-needed-today-hyacinth/) Overall, when we listen to others and understand what they are saying when they connect with us we demonstrate that we value others and have empathy for them.
Empathy and Denmark
There have been many studies about how Denmark is one of the happiest and nicest places to live. “This is according to the UN’s World Happiness Report, an important survey that since 2012 classifies the happiness of 155 countries in the world, and that for seven years has placed Denmark among the top three happiest countries on a global level.” (https://www.morningfuture.com/en/article/2019/04/26/empathy-happiness-school-denmark/601/) A big factor in this relates back to how people in Denmark seem to value and incorporate empathy in their lives. This can be seen through the prominent concept of “hygge.” Hygge is a phenomenon closely related to Danish culture; this word is both a verb and an adjective and does not have an English equivalent. “Hygge could be defined as ‘intentionally created intimacy.’ In a country where it gets dark very early in the year, it rains, it’s gray, hygge means bringing light, warmth and friendship, creating a shared, welcoming and intimate atmosphere.” (https://www.morningfuture.com/en/article/2019/04/26/empathy-happiness-school-denmark/601/) This is a fundamental Danish concept that creates a sense of well-being. Interestingly, hygge is becoming a global phenomenon! If you search for hygge on Amazon, you will get about 6,000 results, most of which are books. Instagram has more than Amazon, with #hygge racking up 5.2 million posts and counting! SO, how does a culture foster a concept like empathy so effectively? The answer: By teaching, learning and practicing from the ground up with kids.
Teaching Kids Empathy
Danish schools have a unique curriculum incorporated in their education plans. Students 6-16 years old spend about one hour a week in school dedicated to empathy. These lessons are called “Klassen tid.” This is a fundamental part of learning life skills for these students, much like learning English, science or math for U.S. students. During this hour “…students discuss their problems, either related to school or not, and the whole class, together with the teacher, tries to find a solution based on real listening and understanding. If there are no problems to discuss, children simply spent the time together relaxing and enjoying hygge.” (https://www.morningfuture.com/en/article/2019/04/26/empathy-happiness-school-denmark/601/) This time spent on exploration, problem solving and growth of emotional intelligence helps the students connect with each other through activities that build empathy. Unlike other places in the world, there is no stigma or stress connected to this emotion. The stronger the understanding of empathy the longer and more sincere the student’s relationships are. These enduring relationships correlate to the prevention of bullying and success at work.
Empathy is a Life Skill
As we said before, empathy helps people be successful in their careers. This is because they are able to connect with their peers, are more goal oriented, and adept at team work related tasks. If we look back at Denmark, 60% of tasks in schools are teamwork based. Thus these tasks require the children to understand empathy in order to achieve good results. However, the focus of these results is not to excel over others, but to lift up your teammates that are struggling with the tasks. The success of the team is therefore the goal that everyone is striving for. It is because of the students’ skills in empathy that Denmark is often touted as one of the best places to have a career in Europe.
Empathy is then coupled with the viewpoint that competition is with yourself and not with others. Instead, Danes practice the culture of motivation to improve and the measurement is exclusively in relation to themselves. This is vastly different from the prominent mentality in the U.S. where the goal is to beat the other person and to strive for a win even if it is at the cost of your peers. “The Danes give a lot of space to children’s free play, which teaches empathy and negotiation skills. Playing in the country has been considered an educational tool since 1871.” (https://www.morningfuture.com/en/article/2019/04/26/empathy-happiness-school-denmark/601/) Most of this is achieved through collaborative learning. This style of learning involves bringing together children with various strengths and weaknesses in different subjects. The teams of students then help each other with their studies by working together on various topics and projects. This format teaches the kids that they need each other to be successful and to connect they will need empathy. Jessica Alexander comments that, “Many studies show that when you explain something to someone…you not only learn the subject much better than you would do by memorizing it yourself, but you also build empathy skills which are further strengthened by having to be careful about the way the other person receives the information, and having to put oneself in their shoes to understand how learning works.” (https://www.morningfuture.com/en/article/2019/04/26/empathy-happiness-school-denmark/601/)
The results are echoed by Avery Konda, who recently tried to explain the concept of empathy to kids. After trying to talk with children and pull out responses from them (which fell short of what he was looking for), he began to play with the kids. Through this play time with toys he helped the children discover deeper meanings of empathy. Konda concluded, “Students learn more from gamified activities that allow them to learn skills through application, more than they do through PowerPoints and traditional teaching…[They] take away more when they’re required to live and breathe the topic of conversation.” (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-empathy-most-important-skill-world-today-avery-konda/?trackingId=ltUkZUWiNiFJLSRQ45YbyA%3D%3D) This is fascinating for all of us who are trying to excel in our careers, and for those that are raising children. If we all strive to listen closely to conversations with others and practice our teamwork skills, we can begin to strengthen our empathy skills. Building empathy takes time and consistent practice. If we look at how Danish culture has developed, we can begin to apply more empathy to our daily lives and continue to create a more caring world.
Broken Heart Syndrome
“No other organ, perhaps no other object in human life, is as imbued with metaphor and meaning as the human heart. Over the course of history, the heart has been a symbol of our emotional lives… The very word “emotion” stems in part from the French verb ‘émouvoir’, meaning ‘to stir up.’ And perhaps it’s only logical that emotions would be linked to an organ characterized by its agitated movement.” (Jauhar) We at Unified Caring Association (UCA) continue to research and learn more about caring for others and for ourselves. In this journey we discovered a well spoken TedTalk by Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist and writer. In his presentation, we hear about how our emotions can in fact change the shape of our hearts.
The TedTalk from the Heart
Doctor Jauhar eloquently leads us on a journey during his speech. He recounts stories and examples of how the heart is affected by the mind and emotions felt by patients who are extremely happy or sad. “…we have come to understand that the connection between the heart and the emotions is a highly intimate one. The heart may not originate our feelings, but it is highly responsive to them.” (Jauhar) Doctor Jauhar continues on to explain how the nerves that control our unconscious processes like our heartbeat, can sense distress. This distress can trigger an abnormal fight-or-flight response that is often seen by signs similar to heart failure. Some examples are blood vessels constrict. The heart rate begins to gallop and there is an increase in blood pressure. All of these symptoms often result in damage.
In recent history we have been more prone to seeing doctors uphold a scientific biological approach to heart. However with newer research and imagery we can literally see the heart organ change shape in response to emotions. “[The heart is] more the domain of doctors like me, wielding technologies that even a century ago… were considered taboo. In the process, the heart has been transformed … into a machine that can be manipulated and controlled.” Doctor Jauhar states that there is a golden nugget resulting from this breakthrough. These techniques and solutions that doctors are currently prescribing to their patients need to be complemented by caring attention to the emotional well-being. This is reflecting upon the descriptions of the heart dating back to classical history. This is an era where it was believed that the heart was the seat of all thoughts and emotions; our lifeline.
To help explain this concept of how emotional health aids physical heart health, Doctor Jauhar cites a study published in the British journal “The Lancet” in 1990 called Lifestyle Heart Trial. This was a study based on a group of patients that had coronary (heart) disease. A portion of the group was given a ‘standard’ treatment plan (a.k.a. the control group). The other portion of the group was given an intense set of lifestyle changes. These changes included diet and exercise, stress management assistance, and support group activities. In the end, the group that was prescribed the intensive lifestyle changes by far was healthier than the control group. What is also interesting is “…some patients [placed] in the control group adopted diet and exercise plans that were nearly as intense as those in the intensive lifestyle group. Their heart disease still progressed. Diet and exercise alone were not enough to facilitate coronary disease regression. At both one-year and five-year follow-ups, stress management was more strongly correlated with reversal of coronary disease than exercise was.” (Jauhar)
Broken Heart Syndrome
It appears that Doctor Jauhar is correct when he says, “…the emotional heart intersects with its biological counterpart in surprising and mysterious ways.” (Jauhar) This is best seen through a heart disorder that came on the scene about 20 years ago called “takotsubo cardiomyopathy”-“broken heart syndrome.” This is a disorder where the heart acutely weakens in response to intense stress or grief. Some examples of this syndrome are the sudden end of a romance or the death of a loved one, and even during a large widespread social upheaval, like a natural disaster. Doctor Jauhar displays a picture on the screen behind him of a normal heart, a broken heart and a takotsubo urn for which the syndrome is named.
The heart image in the middle is the broken heart, and looks very different from the normal healthy heart on the left. “It appears stunned and frequently balloons into the distinctive shape of a takotsubo, shown on the right, a Japanese pot with a wide base and a narrow neck. We don’t know exactly why this happens, and the syndrome usually resolves within a few weeks. However, in the acute period, it can cause heart failure, life-threatening arrhythmias, even death.” That is very serious. Interestingly, broken heart syndrome can be on set in relation to an extremely happy event as well. The main difference seen here is that the heart appears to react differently. The heart has ballooning in the midportion and not at the top as when the syndrome is from strife. Either way broken hearts are deadly, figuratively and literally.
Animals Feel this Too
In 1980, the journal Science published findings on caged rabbits. These rabbits were fed a high-cholesterol diet in an effort to study cardiovascular disease in the rabbits. Much to the scientists’ surprise some rabbits became more diseased than others. “The rabbits had very similar diet, environment and genetic makeup. They thought it might have something to do with how frequently the technician interacted with the rabbits.” (Jauhar) The same high-cholesterol diet study was repeated with the rabbits, but they were divided into two groups. The one change was how the scientists interacted, or ignored the rabbits. “… in one group, the rabbits were removed from their cages, held, petted, talked to, played with, and in the other group, the rabbits remained in their cages and were left alone.” (Jauhar) After a year it was found that the rabbits who were interacted with and felt loved had 60% less aortic disease than the ignored rabbits. This is interesting because the rabbits as a whole all had similar cholesterol levels, blood pressure and heart rate.
Keeping up with a Health Trend
It can be said that we are reaching the limits to what we can do for our heart health when we rely purely on biological processes. To keep the trend of discovering new ways to stay heart healthy something has to change. We will need to begin incorporating emotional health with our physical health. We can do this in various ways including strengthening our emotional intelligence. Doctor Jauhar clarifies that “The American Heart Association still does not list emotional stress as a key modifiable risk factor for heart disease, perhaps in part because blood cholesterol is so much easier to lower than emotional and social disruption.” (Jauhar) Taking the easier path is appearing to be less of a good long-term strategy.
To keep up with our heart health we will need to begin using tools to increase our emotional well-being too. “Perhaps, if we recognize that when we say “a broken heart,” we are indeed sometimes talking about a real broken heart. We must, must pay more attention to the power and importance of the emotions in taking care of our hearts.” (Jauhar)
Watch the full TedTalk by clicking here!
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Even more than before we see kids and teens with their faces glued to their phones either texting, playing games, or any variety of things. (Ok, maybe we can include some adults in this as well.) With this technology literally at our fingertips, we at Unified Caring Association (UCA) have great news! We have sourced amazing apps and games for ages 2 and up to play on a tech device of your choice. These apps and games are in line with our caring values, and are verified with Common Sense Media, a company that reviews , monitors and rates a wide variety of apps. Check out the variety of caring and educational apps we have found for our members that are available on iTunes, Google Play, or the Amazon Appstore!
Ages 2-5 Years Old
Wheels on the Bus
Do you remember the classic kids song that is often sung on field trips? This app has it in sweet and interactive ways. Parents and kids will probably giggle with delight while singing along with this newest version of “Wheels on the Bus!” You can even record your own voice singing the very memorable tune.
Crayola Color, Draw & Sing
Take some time to fuel you artsy side by being creative with this app! Kids choose a song to listen to while they create their masterpieces. Each and every action unlocks a new instrument or feature, even scribbling or changing colors! Your young artist will have a beautiful piece of art accompanied with a song in no time flat!
Ages 4-8 Years Old
Intro to Math, by Montessorium
It’s never too early to start learning new skills! This app helps teach kids an early education in math through a game. In this game the ‘student’ will manipulate objects on the screen to achieve the end goal. There are several approaches to numbers that this app presents to the kids using this app. Who knows, your child might soon be giving you advice on stocks and investments?!
Intro to Letters, by Montessorium
This is another educational app that we have sourced to help children recognize, pronounce and write letters! This includes lowercase and capital letters as well as phonograms to help sound out new or unfamiliar words.
Creativity and learning are connected at the hip, especially when they are paired up with interesting characters and engaging activities! With this app, there are many ways for self-expression. It covers important topics like phonics, storytelling, mathematics, problem-solving and more! Through this app parents can view and track the progress their kids are making which enables them to help their children set goals and celebrate achievements upon completion!
Ages 6-8 Years Old
Winky Think Logic Puzzles
Puzzles are one of the most endearing games on the market. They touch a place of nostalgia in our hearts. With Winky Think Logic Puzzles your kids will feel the joy in a new techno way! This app has 180 logic puzzles in a wide range of difficulties! Kids will mull over complex games with obstacles, mazes and multi-touch action while strengthening their minds.
This is an adorable family-friendly puzzle adventure requiring analytical thinking that can be fun for younger kids, teens and adults alike! Parents and kids play cooperatively to solve puzzles by talking it out to decide the best strategy to win the game!
This app is a strategic adventure that is a unique and fun way to travel. It is challenging, by not too hard for those kids that are on the younger side of the age bracket. The game plays the role of a little bug named Kribl. Kribl must traverse harsh landscapes inside the safety of a box.
Ages 6-12 Years Old
One of the most valuable skills kids can learn early on is mindfulness. This will set them up for success by giving them the ability to cope with stressful situations that pop up as they grow. This app helps learn mindfulness by providing the tools and practice with Flibbertigibbet, an animated representation of emotions that your child feels.
Your kids will have a grand time while improving their fine motor skills and practicing math! Each dot represents a number, players combine and divide them to solve math problems. This easy to use app is attention grabbing for all ages with fun animations and bright colors.
Plants by Tinybop
Virtually explore wildlife with this app. Learn about nature by crashing clouds together, or how the seasons change by speeding up time! This app has eye catching illustrations that are filled with details. With open play capabilities and every season is a new adventure, we cannot wait to see what our kids discover next!
Magisto Video Editor
For the older kids in our lives who enjoy video making, we have an app for you! This is a powerful and easy to use video editing app. It can add music to existing video, stitch together footage, create show stopping slide shows, and more! Let your teens’ inner filmmaker thrive and see what they create!
Your teen can explore language by choosing different categories based on their grade level. A couple of examples of the categories are: soundslike and compound words. Add on the fun by picking what challenges to do in the app. Unscramble letters to make words, practice spelling by testing, alphabetize words, or use them in a game setting! Tons of fun your your teen!
High School Story
Teen players set up their own version of high school. Try to win the game by surviving teendom trappings like dating, bullying and cyberbullying, self-esteem, and other social interactions that cause stress. Just like the messages in this app, learn to gear your outlook and actions to be positive, filled with your teens authenticity, kindness and more to help support digital friends. This app contains some challenging topics and quests that help instigate teens using it to think and practice caring actions.
Words With Friends
Do you and your teens like to play word games like Scrabble? This app is for you! Words With Friends is a Scrabble-look-a-like game that is more for teens and adults. It has fast match ups to challenge friends and other people online, and an open chat (which is unfiltered) to catch up with friends and family members as your play!
This is a full Sims game to build your dream house, get that highly sought after job and have your dream relationship. The Fremium version is fun, enjoyable and can be easily played without spending money on in-app purchases. How will your teen plan out their lives in this game? Maybe they will have that mansion with a pool, or that fun, fast-paced career that brings in the dough while caring for the environment! The options are endless. The sky’s the limit!
Whatever games and apps your children choose to play, we at UCA value that they are filled with C.A.R.E., and help your children grow into caring ambassadors. Have fun and enjoy the apps!
Unified Caring Association is constantly striving to help create a more caring world. We love sharing more caring information and resources on our website and through blogs that share caring in our community, activities, and reviews. We also send out caring posts on our social media accounts (Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter) to give inspiration throughout the week.