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Can we teach someone to be happier?

by Michelle Hall, Director Pathways Health and Research Centre

We are supporting students to become literate and numerate and curious about the world around them but if we are being effective as a place of learning we are also teaching them how to be happier in life. How to flourish.

When we cultivate positive relationships with our students we are making important connections with students and learning what is important to them, what they enjoy and what they are good at. These three pieces of knowledge are important to examine when we are seeking to be happier and thrive.

First let’s get rid of the notion that we can be happy all of the time. This is hedonistic and unrealistic and unfortunately the trap many of our younger members of society fall into (I sound so old!).

When we live only for the moment we are missing out on the rewards of achieving a goal. When we only focus on the future without taking pleasure from the present we drain the joy out of life and this is not sustainable.

Being happier, however is achievable when we examine our life in parts and make small changes incrementally that will bring us joy.

Students will need support to find this balance. Being happier involves living in the present, enjoying what you do but it also involves having dreams and making plans for the future. Sometimes this is not fun and involves hard work. This however makes our pursuits meaningful and gives us purpose. Finding the balance between living in the present and planning for the future can lead to happiness. Knowing our strengths is also an important factor to consider.

For example, I enjoy singing, and it is meaningful to me but for those of you who have heard me sing, you will know I am not very good so pursuing a career in music would not have made me happy in the end. I am however good at teaching and I enjoy working with kids and I believe the work I do is meaningful. It makes me happy. I am not happy every day but generally it was a great choice for me.

Life is too short to not examine our lives and what we do to ensure we are on the right track to being happier.

As schools approach that time of the year when meetings are organised with students and their families to support good choices around subject selection and senior students are making decisions that may impact their direction after school we should endeavour to support them to make choices that will see them happier.

This should also be a consideration when we plan our lessons and set up routines for our classrooms. Supporting our students to be happier when at school is a proactive measure that will make a significant impact to the culture at our school.

When we seek to know and support students to understand what is important to them, what they enjoy doing and what they are good at we are setting our students up to flourish rather than just survive school.

When we model this practice we are supporting our own capacity to be happier. When we are happier we are more productive and effective.

An effective activity to do with your students (or for yourself is listing the things that you enjoy doing, the things that you think are important or meaningful and your strengths. Placing them in three circles that overlap will will help identify a direction.

For those of you who enjoy reading around this topic I do recommend Dan Gilbert’s, Stumbling on Happiness.

Happy days,

Michelle Hall


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