A whistle stop tour of happiness and why we should all plan for it
Happiness. What value do we place on it within our lessons? How often do we place it foremost in our planning when we’re developing our plans, our programmes or our curriculums?
It’s the age old question of whether our pupils need to be happy, as long as they’re learning?
In a world of pressure, timescales, outcomes, assessment and judgement, how important really is the consideration of the in the moment feelings of positivity our pupils are experiencing?
I’ve spent years studying the science behind happiness, contextualised within educational spheres. Happiness Factories is the initial summation of all the evidence I’ve uncovered over the value of happiness in our pupils’ learning journey. What I’ve come to realise is that happiness is not something that comes from specific, planned activity, but is an outcome that grows from the approach we take to the relationships we develop within our classrooms, our schools and our structures.
Happy pupils are better. Simple. Arguable, but true. There is significant research to support the notion that pupils who perceive themselves as happy, work harder, try more, value their educational experience and are more motivated to strive for more.
All too often we assume that happiness comes from success, but this is fundamentally the wrong way round. Success does not lead to happiness, unless we are an individual who perceives our place in the world through a narrow, outcome based perspective. For the vast majority of humans, happiness provides us with the foundation upon which perceived success can flourish.
When I started out on my journey to explore happiness within our schools, I assumed, like most people, that the equation for happiness was similar to this:
Ambition + achievement + attainment = success + happiness
But I was wrong. I didn’t really understand the importance of happiness in the development of all of those other aspects. The reality of happiness is more like this:
Happiness = Ambition + Achievement + Attainment = Success
Now all of these elements are utterly subjective. What each of these terms means to us, is unique and based around a complex set of personal, cultural, geographical and social factors, that is far too complex to fit into five hundred words, but at its simplest level, if we strive to create happiness within our pupils and our classrooms, all the other things happen. When all of the other things happen, our students are more likely to feel successful, starting the whole process all over again.
So what is happiness within our educational context? Thats the key question here. If we understand what happiness is, what it looks like and its value in our teaching, then we’re far better positioned to be able to place it as a key priority within our planning and delivery.
Happiness comes from a sense of place, a sense of purpose and a sense of value. Again, its too complex to fit into this blog but to summarise, happiness is the consequence of the feeling of worth our pupils have within their lives (in this example, their school lives). If we consider happiness as such, then we can rightly assume that ensuring ALL our pupils feel valued and worthy within their environment will inevitably lead to increases in all the other elements we desire within our pupils. Make them feel worthy and watch them fly.
So how do we do this, in practice? For me, based on the research I’ve undertaken, it comes down to three simple things:
Praise them for their achievements. Break tasks down into smaller and smaller chunks until you and the pupil can see some success. I liken this to stepping stones across a river. If your goal is to reach the far river bank without getting your feet wet, then you have to be successful at every step and the chances of being successful are reduced. If we look at every stepping stone successfully reached whilst remaining dry as an achievement, then we can find more ways to praise our pupils, giving them the confidence and sense of value in their work, to continue.
Their place in their world is everything to them. If they feel included, incorporated and important, they’ll want to work more. Happiness and the sense of success is really a chemical reaction that happens to us when we are recognised (internally or externally) for an achievement. If they feel successful, they’ll want to feel more of those happy hormones rushing around their brains, encouraging them to push harder for more of that feeling. Its addictive and the same for everyone. We just have to ignite their chemical reactions.
Perception of their environment ultimately leads to all of this. If your classroom, or sports hall, is a happy, vibrant, active and supportive place, where your pupils feel valued, feel included and accepted for who they are, they’ll naturally find the motivation, stimulation and confidence to push themselves, to try harder, to take risks and if they know that regardless of overall outcome they will experience praise, be supported and be made to feel worthy as an individual, then their far more likely to engage with you.
Ultimately, if we can find a way of pushing happiness to the top of our list of priorities when we’re planning and delivering for our pupils, the rest will fall into place. Try it and see. It might make you happy!
If you’re interested and fancy exploring the concept of happiness more, I know of a good book you could start with!
Check out Phil Mathe’s new book – “Happiness Factories. A Success-Driven Approach to Holistic Physical Education“.
This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including Phil Mathe, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of slowchathealth.com
Pair this post with the following:
The Happiness Boomerang by Dale Sidebottom
The Power of Meaningful and Joyful Experiences by Leticia Cariño
How to Facilitate Deeper Connections to Physical Activity by Jordan Manley
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