There has been a great deal of research conducted in recent years into the nature of happiness in its many forms – what it is, how we acquire it and how we can hang on to it once we have it. We know what happiness is and what it isn’t, yet the school system – and modern society as a whole – seems set up to ensure happiness is something that is elusive and transitory. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What the children say
"Some people are really happy, others are really sad. It might be family issues and people make others really, really sad by talking about them" - Samy, age 10
"I have never heard my teacher shout at me." - Charleigh, age 9
What we say
With so many children in the UK growing up unhappy - stressed, isolated, disengaged, withdrawn and lacking self worth, the need to focus specifically on happiness in schools has never been greater. And we don't just mean for the children either. Happy teachers are just as important to make schools healthy places.
What the research says
England ranked 14th out of 15 countries for life satisfaction and 11th for recent feelings of happiness and feeling positive about the future.
The Good Childhood Report, The Children's Society (2015)
Start them thinking
What does 'happiness' mean to you?
Do you need to feel sad to feel happy?
Can you ever be too happy?
If you could take a pill to make you always happy, would you?
Can you make yourself be happy? Can you make someone else be happy?
Create a class list of happy moments.
Track happiness on a 1-10 scale over the course of a day or week.
Interview people on the theme of 'My happiest time'.
Have a 'Make a Stranger Happy' week of activities.
Change something in the staffroom to make it a 'happy place'.
What You've Been Up To So Far:
Made a display for staff, children and adults focusing on the theme with photos, questions and ideas. We also included suggestions about the kinds of things that we know can have a positive effect on happiness levels such as exercise and good quality sleep. We emphasised the fact that happiness does not mean being up all the time, but being able to cope successfully with life's ups and downs. We provided contact details for organisations that can help for anyone feeling particularly unhappy or depressed.
Staff were asked to reflect on what they love about their jobs, and whether there are ways to do more of that!
We thought about how we can make other people feel happy, and show that we value them. We wrote cards and letters to friends at nursery and other important people. The children are talking about what makes them happy, particularly in terms of friends, spontaneously telling me, 'I'm so happy A is here' etc.
During Philosophy for Children, we asked the children 'Why do people get sad?' They suggested different things that can upset people, the overriding theme being that if people feel lost or alone they will feel sad.
We played the Mr Men game, trying to use our face and body to explore the characters of Mr Grumpy, Mr Happy, Mr Worry, Mr Angry and so on. We reflected on the fact that unlike Mr Men, people experience all different feelings: no one is cross all the time, and no one is happy all the time either. We noticed how when we put our faces and bodies into an angry mood, it made us start to feel a bit angry too. We wondered whether this would work with happiness too.
We tried out some simple relaxation techniques - bubbly foot spas, starfish finger movements, calm music and exploring sensory rice together, and learnt exercises to calm ourselves when we feel cross or afraid.
It was an interesting theme for us - lots to think about.
We made a Happiness Wall where students write about what makes them happy.