First: the ability to savor life’s pleasures.
Second: there’s a true engagement with one’s work, avocations, and loved ones.
Third: the sense that one is serving a larger purpose beyond one’s self.
I think it's the third that we need to attend to in our schools.
Whenever we focus on something greater than ourselves--especially the well-being of others--our sense of satisfaction and peace grows exponentially.
Dr. Seligman says at his website, Authentic Happiness, that (more or less) happiness can be taught. Well then, I say, let's start teaching it!
What is positive education?
“Positive education is defined as education for both traditional skills and for happiness. The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for happiness should be taught in school. There is substantial evidence from well controlled studies that skills that increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning can be taught to schoolchildren.” From Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions by Martin E.P. Seligman, Randal M. Ernst, Jane Gillham, Karen Reivich, and Mark Linkins
Teaching Well-Being in Schools
The following is an excerpt from Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being
First, a quiz:
Question one: in one or two words, what do you most want for your children?
If you are like the thousands of parents I’ve polled you responded, “Happiness,” “Confidence,” “Contentment,” “Fulfillment,” “Balance,” “Good stuff,” “Kindness,” “Health,” “Satisfaction,” “Love,” “Being civilized,” “Meaning,” and the like. In short, well-being is your topmost priority for your children.
Question two: in one or two words, what do schools teach?
If you are like other parents, you responded, “Achievement,” “Thinking skills,” “Success,” “Conformity,” “Literacy,” “Math,” “Work,” “Test taking,” “Discipline,” and the like. In short, what schools teach is how to succeed in the workplace.
Notice that there is almost no overlap between the two lists.
The schooling of children has, for more than a century, paved the boulevard toward adult work. I am all for success, literacy, perseverance, and discipline, but I want you to imagine that schools could, without compromising either, teach both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement. I want you to imagine positive education.
Dr. Seligman introduces us to a couple of programs that can actually be taught: The Penn Resiliency Program and The Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum.
First, the major goal of The Penn Resiliency Program is to increase students’ ability to handle day-to-day problems that are common during adolescence. PRP promotes optimism by teaching students to think more realistically and flexibly about the problems they encounter. PRP also teaches assertiveness, creative brainstorming, decision making, relaxation, and several other coping skills. PRP is the most widely researched depression-prevention program in the world.
And then The Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum is a more comprehensive curriculum that builds character strengths, relationships, and meaning, as well as raises positive emotion and reduces negative emotion.
The U.S. Department of Education invested a $2.8 million grant to carry out a large randomized, controlled evaluation of this high school positive psychology curriculum. The results? The positive psychology program improved the strengths of curiosity, love of learning, and creativity, by the reports of teachers who did not know whether the students were in the positive psychology group or the control group. And the program improved social skills (empathy, cooperation, assertiveness, self-control), according to both mothers’ and “blind” teachers’ reports. The program reduced bad conduct, according to mothers’ reports.
Let's do it! Let's invest in kindness, empathy and happiness education in 2012. Everything else will fall in line.
To read more about the art of positive education and the happiness curriculum, click here.