Teaching Happiness in Schools

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Whenever I need some insight (especially in preparation for a speech) I ask my son. He has quite a bit of experience now that he’s 8. He’s been advising me for the past six years. I asked him what really matters in life.

His instant response: hockey.

So I rephrased my question by asking what matters most to all kinds of people — from grandmas and grandpas, small children and big ones, girls and boys?

“Well that’s easy Mom,” he quickly replied. “The ability to read!” Then he dashed outside to play hockey.

The ability to read. It matters most. As a school principal and as a mother I was happy to hear such a response.

The next morning, as we were traveling in the car (where there’s no hockey), I asked if he had any other thoughts about what’s important in life. His answer . . . having fun and being happy!!

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Which got me thinking further.

When parents come to my office for a chat, what do you think they want most for their child? It’s not to exceed academic expectations. They want their child to be treated well, to be cared for at school in their absence, to be treated with respect and dignity. What parents want most is for their child to be happy. The hardest part for parents, is when their child cries not wanting to come to school.

Teachers often want to report out on the child’s reading level, work habits, on-task behaviour, etc. — all of which, more than not, require improvement. Recommendations are made (apps, on-line resources, getting more sleep, monitoring diet, etc.). Should the question be, “How do we increase a child’s happiness?”

As Shawn Achor’s video attests, happiness feeds one’s ability to do well and to be productive. It’s a Ted Talk worth (re)visiting.

Yet how much time do schools spend learning about and truly understanding the research on happiness? Is happiness any more or less important than (fill in a subject). What collective efforts are making a difference? Educators will say that we have Safe and Orderly Schools guidelines, a Social Responsibility curriculum, daily mindful breathing, counselors, class meetings — all of which contribute to a happier classroom/school. I’m talking more. A complete paradigm shift in classrooms where the focus is strengths based education and positive, p o s i t i v e attitude from every single staff (and parent).

At the same fundraising speech, I asked for some funding to focus on happiness. We had worked with Brock Tully, a man who exudes happiness as it’s his passion and purpose. He loves nifty sayings, one of which is, “We may not be able to change the world we see around us but we can change the way we see the world, within us.” If we are to do this, we need to start early and have happiness as a collective vision, beginning with each of us. As Shawn Achor says, “90% of happiness is up to you.”

If we can teach literacy, we can teach happiness — both of which will contribute to a better school, a happier person and ultimately a better community. But it begins with you. How will you begin? Take a step towards creating a positive outlook by following Shawn’s suggestions. As he says, “Small changes ripple outward!” Happy travels!

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