Saturday, 31 March 2012 17:45

Putting Happiness First, Part 4 (Teaching Tip #66)

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In this Teaching Tip I share the results of the three-week “Putting Happiness First” initiative I concluded with my students this past Friday. The idea was inspired by a TED Talk by Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., entitled “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” A central point of this 12-minute presentation is that in our society people tend to believe that we should work hard in order to be happy. Achor suggests that this way of thinking could be backwards. He argues that happiness makes us more productive, creative, and successful. In short, happiness should come first. At the end of his talk, Achor shares some ways for people to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and become happier.

The suggestion I decided to incorporate into my classroom involved asking students each day to think of three things for which they are grateful. For fifteen consecutive school days, the kids and I did this, and over this period we each came up with forty-five positive things in our lives. Each day of that third week, I made the point to my kids that if we’re able to think of that many things in our lives that make us feel grateful and happy, then we’re very lucky. Even though my third graders are very young, I think they were able to appreciate this point. During this third week my students mentioned things, such as sunshine, freedom, peace, our classroom, and a wide variety of other objects and ideas.

Even though we have concluded this initiative, I can now use it as a reference point for the remainder of the year. I am a big believer in establishing reference points in the classroom to give important ideas a sense of performance. The main reference point in our class is the mission statement we created in September and read together every Friday morning. The Tower of Opportunity is another. It reminds us of the various options in life to which we can gain access by working hard in school and earning an education.

Our Putting Happiness First project is now something we can return to on a regular basis to help us build and maintain a sense of gratitude in our lives. During those inevitable times when things don’t go our way and the bad seems to outweigh the good, we can remember coming up with forty-five positive things for which each of us feel grateful. Maybe that can help us ride out those difficult times and maintain a positive attitude, even when it can be difficult to do so.

I will definitely incorporate this project into my teaching next year, and I plan to launch it during the first few weeks of the fall semester. I think it will help me in my efforts to build a classroom culture of positivity and gratitude.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.