By Teachers, For Teachers
Do you think it’s possible to teach happiness? If we want our students to be happy children, as well as happy adults, then research suggests that we have to start focusing on our students’ overall well-being. In fact, several studies found that a child’s emotional health, as well as her behavior, is the most powerful predicator of adult-life satisfaction. However, today’s education system focuses on the Common Core State Standards. These standards are set in place to ensure that American students are career-ready and will be on par for global competiveness. As much as academic success and getting a job in the future is important, research is now finding that an individual’s overall well-being plays a crucial role in ones’ happiness. So where does happiness fit into today’s curriculum, and is it even possible to teach it? According to experts, yes, happiness fits into education and you can achieve it via teaching strategies. Here are a few proven teaching strategies to boost your students' happiness.
Social emotional Learning, or SEL, is the process through which educators teach children how to apply the knowledge and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions. This will help students to establish and maintain positive relationships as well make responsible decisions. Essentially, it means educators teach students how to get along with one another by helping them develop socially and emotionally. One way to do this is by making content relevant to students’ lives. For example, if you want students to connect to a character, you can have them explore how the character is feeling and talk about if they’ve ever been in that position. Getting children to empathize and understand the thoughts and behaviors of others is an important trait to have. Research suggest that people who are more compassionate lead happier, healthier lives.
Mindfulness is another proven way to boost happiness. It’s the practice of focusing your attention in the present moment. Research shows that being mindful can not only improve your well-being, but your physical and mental health as well. Incorporating mindfulness into your day doesn’t take much time, and is not complicated to do. You can start and end your day with just a few short minutes of breathing and teaching students to be in the moment. You can even apply this technique to teach students how to deal, when something gets tough. For example, before giving out a test, tell students when they come to a question they don’t understand, to take a moment to breathe deeply and stay calm and focused, this can help them when they are feeling frustrated.
Having a sense of purpose is yet another way to give meaning to your life. Studies show that feeling hopeful and optimistic make people happier and more satisfied with their lives. An easy way to teach students to be hopeful, optimistic, and have aspiration, is to show them how to turn negative things into positive things. It’s as simple as having a student say something pessimistic (negative) then telling them to “Turn it around” into something optimistic (positive). For example, a child may say, “I am not good at math.” You can teach them to easily turn this negative statement around by saying, “I’m getting better at math every single day because I’m working hard at it.” Optimism is not a personality trait and can be taught. We create our own thoughts and with a little bit of practice, anyone can change the way they think.
All too often, teachers jump in to help a struggling student. If you really want to help students cultivate a sense of happiness, then you need to let them struggle and learn on their own. A great way to do this is by letting your students work things out by themselves. When children get a chance to learn from their own mistakes, they are able to learn. For example, when students are working within a group and you see them not getting along, don’t rush over to help them, give them a chance to work it out by themselves. This is a time for them to learn from one another. They are learning compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and patience. These are all happiness-bosting qualities that need to acquire. After the students struggle for a bit, then you can intervene and tell them that you noticed them struggling to work well together, and ask them what they did to work it out. These are the moments where students can really learn from one another.
Reflection is a great way to build meaning into your life because it allows you to think about what you did and change it. Give students the opportunity to reflect as much as you can. Reflecting can help students understand what they are learning, as well as how they are connecting with their peers. The more they reflect, the more they’ll understand themselves and others. This will help them to live a happy life.
Educators can help students work through their emotions by simply validating them. Take the time to talk with students about how they are feeling about all aspect of their lives. Teach students how to savor the moment and be grateful for what they have. Teach them how to be optimistic, as well as how they can control their emotions through mindfulness. Allow them to do things on their own, as well as reflect. When we do all of these things, we will give our students a deeper understanding of who they are, which can help them to lead a happier, healthier life.
Do you think it’s possible to teach happiness? What activities or teaching strategies to use in your classroom to boost happiness? Please share with us in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.