woodsAt times I’m a sucker for acronyms and when I find one where the name fits what it is trying to spell out I grab onto it. A few months ago I heard an acronym that knocked my socks off and spoke to the underlying secrets of healthy living and happiness. Dan Siegel, MD is a renowned neuropsychiatrist and author of many books, the latest being Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain where this incredibly relevant acronym is spelled out. In this book he explores what we know about the adolescent brain and how to navigate these critical years for optimal health and happiness for teens and parents.

Dan will be in San Diego on Saturday, February 8th delivering a talk to the public at the Bridging the Hearts and Mind of Youth Conference.

The brilliant acronym is ESSENCE and we can all take a lesson from it.

  • ES: Emotional Spark – These are the more intense internal sensations that inevitably serve to create that sense of aliveness and meaning throughout life.
  • SE: Social Engagement— Adolescents find their greatest meaning through mutually rewarding connections and relationships in life.
  • N: Novelty— This is the wonder of creating new experiences that stimulate all our senses, emotions and life in how we seek out and create new experiences in challenging and wonderful ways.
  • CE: Creative Explorations— Through dreaming about new concepts and ideas and using our imaginations to engage life in a fresh way we set the stage for an expansive consciousness and the ability to see life through many different lenses.

This is an acronym for all of us. These four domains are the essence of feeling happy and alive.

In his book Dan says that he wonders if the tension that parents (or I might even say any adults) sometimes have with teens is a deep longing toward the ESSENCE that they have lost. As adults it’s natural to lose this essence as the brain is wired toward routine. Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” If we’ve lost the wonder of life and teens have it, it highlights this gap.

But, if we take the essence of adolescence that lives within each of us; the social engagement, novelty and creative exploration, we will enliven the emotional spark that is there.

In his book Dan says, “In a nutshell, the brain changes of adolescence offer both risk and opportunity. How we navigate the waters of adolescence—as young individuals on the journey or as adults walking with them—can help guide the ship that is our life into treacherous places or into exciting adventures. The decision is ours.”

Mindfulness helps us bolster that ability to discern what matters in our moment-to-moment experience.

May we all find the emotional spark that leads to continual moments of waking up to this wild and precious lifelong adventure we call being human.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Mother and son image available from Shutterstock.