Teaching Happiness Skills at School
Last keynote to the Global Educational Leadership Conference in Singapore, speaking to 600 principals of primary and secondary schools, my talk was a call to highlight the importance of well-being and resilience of children in the educational environments already sufficiently focused on academic achievement.
The reasons for the focus on the development of well-being in children are twofold. On the one hand, developed countries are facing an unprecedented increase in childhood and adolescent depression and anxiety disorders. On the other hand, a substantial body of research documents the benefits of well-being. Research demonstrates that happy people are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, relationships, health, longevity, income, academic and work performance. They are more creative, able to multitask and endure boring tasks, are more trusting, helpful and sociable. What’s more, recent studies of Alejandro Adler show that the schools teaching happiness skills outperform academically the schools teaching a more standard health curriculum, so focusing on well-being is a plus even when it comes to the core mission of the school.
Positive education aims to develop the skills of well-being, flourishing and optimal functioning in children, teenagers and students, as well as parents, teachers and, more generally, educational institutions. Instead of utilising a trouble-shooting approach, still widespread when it comes to psychological functioning, positive education emphasises a preventative or enabling approach to education. Based on the established discipline of positive psychology, positive education is underpinned by theories and empirical research in this area.
So what are these happiness skills all about? Here are some ideas:
- Happiness skills are about being aware of the happiness traps, such as placing the importance on power, money-making and artificial beauty;
- They are about learning when to chose rather than what to choose;
- They are about knowing to be content with the little things in life, such as the freshness of the spring air, a phone call from a friend or a movie night in;
- They are about using the right tools at the right moment – whether it is a mindfulness minute, a run around the block or a re-framing activity;
- And primarily, they are about knowing that happiness works in the inside-out rather than outside-in direction.
Many of present positive educational initiatives centre around the development, implementation and empirical validation of varied educational curricula and programmes. Examples in the UK include the Penn Resiliency Programme, the Australian-born Bounce Back! – resilience skills integrated into mainstream lessons, the teacher-friendly Personal Well-Being Skills and the SPARK Resilience Programme implemented in several schools across the UK, Japan and France. In the UK right now, the call for positive education is particularly urgent given that teachers are given less support around the emotional and behavioural issues the school kids are facing.