"For untold generations we have been led to believe that happiness orbited around success. That if we work hard enough, we will be successful, and only if we are successful we will become happy. Now...we are learning the opposite is true. When we are happy - when our mindset and mood are positive - we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it."
I hope you will consider joining us for what promises to be an illuminating evening of conversation and community connection when our parent-faculty book group convenes on October 10 to discuss one of our professional community summer book picks, The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor. Achor is the CEO of Aspirant and the creator of a popular course at Harvard on what makes a "good life."
As we look ahead to the upcoming discussion, I want to share why I'm so motivated by the ideas in this book.
Modern society equates achievement--degrees, income, possessions--with increased levels of happiness, yet many people in the world--even the wealthy and "accomplished"-- are unhappy and stressed. This pace of trying to "do it all" often leaves us feeling harried, compromising our health and sleep, and limiting our time with those most important to us. The latest research in the positive psychology movement shows that our understanding of conditions for happiness are actually backward. We are now learning that happiness is what fuels motivation, creativity, and productivity, and a positive mindset is a powerful indicator of success.
The positive psychology movement, led by Martin Seligman, defines happiness as pleasure, engagement and meaning. He explains, "...Those who pursue all three routes have the fullest lives." (40) Why is this relevant to our students? As a parent of now young adults, I have watched my own children navigate high school, college and now career, and what I want most for them is to engage in their lives fully and find an internally-motivated sense of purpose.
For our students, ages 5-18, I found many of the strategies in the book to be particularly helpful.
Here are just a few of Achor's suggestions:
- Develop family practices to model practicing gratitude. Studies show that this kind of practice, "trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth." (101)
- Practice navigating the big and complicated tasks of life one small piece at a time. By applying "Zorro's Circle," we can encourage our children (and ourselves) to carefully manage the sometimes overwhelming complexity of a project or to-do list. "By first limiting the scope of our efforts, then watching those efforts have the intended effect, we accumulate the resources, knowledge and confidence to expand this circle, gradually conquering a larger and larger area." (129)
- Foster human connections. I know, from my own life and family as well as the deep teacher-student relationships I see here at Head-Royce every day, that our job is to promote this in the classroom and in our after-school co-curricular connections. I have followed the story of the Harvard Study of Adult Development with fascination. Achor references it as well and reminds us about the need for a rich, full social circle: "...When we have a community of people we can count on--we multiply our emotional, intellectual, and physical resources." (176)
There is much to explore in this book about creating practices that allow us to develop a positive mindset, grit and resilience and an appreciation of all we have at our disposal to live the most engaged lives possible.