Happy Teacher, Happy Students

karenYesterday’s edition of Slate Magazine featured sponsored content from the University of California’s UC Breakthroughs. The post, one of a six-part series “covering groundbreaking innovations that are pushing the boundaries of science today,” asked a provocative question:

“Have Researchers Discovered The Secret of Happiness?”

I’m always up for some tips on being happier, especially in my role as a community college teacher.  In fact, that’s what pleasureinlearning is all about.  We’re committed to the notion that students who enjoy learning will want to learn more, will be more likely to remain in school, and are more likely to make successful transitions to careers or higher education.  What can I learn from the work of Sonya Lyubormirsky, professor of psychology at UC Riverside? And how can I integrate those “secrets of happiness” into my students’ classroom experience?

thankfulLyubormirsky first advises keeping a gratitude journal, but she cautions against overdoing it.  Volunteers who recorded reasons for gratitude once weekly became happier, but increasing the dosage to three times weekly turned the activity into a chore. My students enjoy learning about their bodies’ amazing capabilities..and I certainly enjoy sharing that information…but I can’t oversell every bit of physiology as “astonishing” or “unbelievable.” Regular, gentle invitations to appreciate the workings of the body are well received.

Up next, simple acts of kindness. The delivery of a small gift or a compliment generated gains in the happiness of both givers and receivers. HappinessIt doesn’t take much effort to write “Better!” on a quiz paper or to acknowledge a perceptive comment during class discussion. Greeting students by name and acknowledging their personal struggles and victories pay big dividends. My students may be adults, but they still covet the tiny smiley-face stickers that top perfect quiz papers. They enjoy the occasional in-class raffle for educational goodies I collect. They compete for the privilege of raiding the candy can at break.

Finally, the experimenters discovered the power of “What Went Well.” When subjects recorded three things that had gone well each week, they were happier, they were more active, more sociable, and their work output improved.  A teacher can help students discover what’s going well in a class by An emoticon with a smile. For more emoticons i...pointing out how much students have learned “since you walked in the door this morning.” I like to tease my students about how smart they’re going to sound when they flaunt their latest tongue-twisting terms at their family dinner table. I interrupt tough stretches of work for “pat yourself on the back breaks.” I invite them to share the ways that they’ve used their newly minted knowledge at the doctor’s office or in deciphering a news story or medical television show. I openly share my pride in their development.

I’m not sure that the UC Davis researchers have actually discovered the secrets of happiness. Maybe the secrets boil down to treating others as you would like to be treated…I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard that before.

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