Many people agree that education transformation needs to take place. Many agree that we need to change the way we teach and the way we treat our teachers. My work strives to add a unifying goal to this movement. We need to change the reason why we go to school. Rather than testing, standardization, and college attendance, the goal should be...
...to help our kids live happy, healthy lives. In Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson’s book “Love 2.0” she points out that as our society’s stress levels increase, weight increases, and chronic illness diagnoses increase, the life expectancy for kids today has declined relative to their parents. This is the first time this has occurred in centuries. It is far past time that we give more priority to ensuring our schools teach kids to live happy, healthy lives.
But, don't most people chase happiness with out really achieving it?
We can help children learn how to achieve happy, healthy lives by incorporating a few topics, or as I call them the Five Happy Healthy Elements: Emotional Health & Positive Relationships, Physical Health & Nutrition, Financial Literacy, Community Involvement & Effective Altruism, and Exploration of Interests & Play.
As I have been planning my nonprofit, Happy Healthy Academy, I’ve noticed people tend to dismiss the word “happy.” I think this is due to the fact that some think of happiness as an intangible state that is unmeasurable. While happiness does require practice, as do many other things in our lives, that is all the more reason to incorporate it into schooling. As it turns out living a life of fulfillment is in fact teachable and measurable. Some would ask how can we objectively measure a subjective feeling? Professor Ed Diener, also known as Dr. Happiness, tells us that a self reported measure of happiness is actually the best measure. It will match to brain scans of the left prefrontal activity, serotonin, and cortisol levels, what family and friends say about one’s happiness level, reaction time to good and bad things, and memory for good vs bad. He was also able to predict future behavior based on happiness levels. People at 18 who are more cheerful and satisfied in life later succeed in certain ways. They tend to have higher incomes, are more likely to live longer, have better health, and are more likely to get married and stay married.
For the country of Bhutan measuring GNH, or Gross National Happiness, levels is a matter of pride. As they put it in their 2015 GNH index “GNH is a much richer objective than GDP or economic growth. In GNH, material well-being is important but it is also important to enjoy sufficient well-being in things like community, culture, governance, knowledge and wisdom, health, spirituality and psychological welfare, a balanced use of time, and harmony with the environment.” They survey the citizens to measure happiness across four pillars and nine domains. The four pillars are political, economic, cultural, and environmental. The nine domains are psychological wellbeing, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, good governance, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. The Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, said: “The 2015 GNH Index provides a self-portrait of a society in flux, and offers Bhutanese the opportunity to reflect on the directions society is moving, and make wise and determined adjustments.” Because of this focus they are able to say: 91.2% of Bhutanese are narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy and 43.4% of Bhutanese are extensively or deeply happy. That is in stark contrast to the US which as of 2016 ranks 19 among 34 countries surveyed by the World Happiness Report. And for our kids? Evolutionary biologist Dr. Gray tells us that children today are more depressed than they were in the Great Depression and more anxious today than during the cold war.
The Good News
The good news is that in addition to being measurable, happiness is also teachable. There are a few places to learn about the pursuit of happiness. Dr. Walsh’s research lead to the 8 Ways of Wellbeing which include Nutrition, Exercise, Relationships, Giving Back, Spirituality, Spending time in Nature, Recreation, and Relaxation. He also refers to these as TLCs. They are a life style guide that lead to happiness.
If you need something more structured, one can take a class that teaches how to live a life of happiness and fulfillment. Dr. Rajagopal Raghunathan’s research answers the question “What are the determinants of a happy and fulfilling life?” The course he teaches at the Indian School of Business is now accessible to any one on Coursera. He explains that happiness is like a balloon. He talks about seven specific ways in which we tend to poke holes in our balloons thus deflating our happiness. He also teaches seven habits of the highly happy to help us “inflate the balloon.” He points out that there are two forces acting on the balloons at all times. To increase happiness we need to patch the holes. And the more of the seven happy habits we use the more our balloons will inflate.
As with any habit these happy habits, or TLCs, need to be practiced. With my work I suggests a way to adapt these habits to our education system. They are called the Happy Healthy Elements: Emotional Healthy & Positive Relationships, Physical Healthy & Nutrition, Financial Literacy, Community Involvement & Effective Altruism, and Exploration of Interest & Play. We can have a profoundly positive impact on the future lives of our country’s children by making these topics a priority in our school system while also shifting to an interest based learning method when teaching literacy and numeracy. It is with these elements that we can help students learn to manage their inner world, relate to their outer world, and find their place in the world.
I dive into more detail about these Happy Healthy Elements as well as interest based learning in my book and here on the blog. You will be able to learn more by continuing to follow me here or on social media. My book "What's the Point of School? Education Reform: A Matter of Life and Death" will be released soon. You can subscribe here to be notified of it's release.
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Emma B Perez