Along with the greeting of Happy New Year ringing throughout the school over the past couple of weeks, we have had superheroes flying about in Primary School with their superhuman strengths, helping to make the world a happier place for everyone. With all this expectation of happiness where can we find the strength to be happy throughout this year and beyond?
This term, we welcome many new families to BISS Puxi and in conversations with parents, one of the key ambitions for their children is that they ‘just want their children to be happy.’ Interestingly, the World Happiness Report 2015 identifies three key features of child development that will determine a child’s happiness and whether they will grow into a happy and well-functioning adult. These are academic, behavioural and emotional, but it is emotional development that is the best of these three predictors. Aristotle recognised this many centuries ago when he stated that ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all’. What then, do we do at BISS Puxi to help children flourish and be happy?
We recognise that the pursuit of happiness is in itself an empty endeavour. You too may have recognised this over the recent Christmas period when perhaps the desire for the latest Star Wars toy seemed all consuming and the only thing that would make the children happy was to buy it. And yet what really makes them happy is not the material object but the enthusiasm and excitement of participating in the whole Star Wars experience and learning about the story, the gratitude and love felt when receiving a gift, the expectation of the hours of playing, and finally the curiosity of a new toy, figuring out how it works, how to build it, and how to fix it when it’s broken.
These emotions of zest for life, hope, gratitude, curiosity and love are what are known as the Happiness strengths and originate from Strengths theory first advocated by Positive Psychologists and in particular Dr Martin Seligman. Strengths theory originates from the concept of identifying traits that enable us to flourish rather than those negative attributes that can impact upon our mental health.
Students in Years 7, 8 and 9 in their Personal, Social and Health Education lessons have been recognising their individual strengths and then looking at them collectively as a group.
Using a simple on line strengths survey VIA Strengths, students are able to identify the 24 character strengths which go to make up their personality characteristics and in doing so, learn to use their particular strengths to develop strategies that will enable them to manage stressful situations and in turn to flourish; to experience happiness. You too can take this survey and see what your top strengths are. You may be surprised.
The year groups have produced wordles. Here is a flavour of some of the wordles. The size of the word illustrates its ranking in the students 24 character strengths e.g. the bigger the word the more common a strength it is amongst the group of students.
Interestingly, the wordles show that as the students move up through the school their character strengths shift and some of the character strengths related to happiness tend to diminish and character strengths related to competition, sociability and kindness come to the fore. This is not to suggest that one strength is any better than another, nor that our children are necessarily less happy as they get older, but it does suggest that we need to support them in boosting the strengths of happiness if they are to develop as balanced and flourishing young adults. Happiness does have to be worked at.
There are many activities that we can do to boost our happiness and our children. Here are a few you might like to have a go at.
When you use the Zest strength you are being enthusiastic and excited about life. To lift your energy levels do some sort of physical exercise for 30 minutes a day. This can be as simple as walking to school and back, cycling or a session at the gym.
The feeling of hope can be boosted by looking to the future. Although in my blog recently on Mindfulness I said we should live in the present, taking a moment to imagine your best possible self in the coming year, imagining what you will be doing, and writing down what you want to achieve can really give you focus and a feeling of confidence and motivation that you can do it.
Turning from hope, gratitude shifts our minds from centring on ourselves to connecting with others and to begin to build positive relationships. Just after Christmas is a great time of year to drop a quick note, text or phone call to someone thanking them for a gift and telling them of your gratitude. It will make them feel good and in turn make you feel good.
Curiosity takes us outside of ourselves and others and causes us to question and explore our world, leading us to discover new opportunities and ultimately personal growth. As an expat in Shanghai what better opportunity have you got to explore new cultures, new foods and new places. Our Guide to Greater Hongqiao can give you some ideas to get started.
The fifth happiness strength and probably the key to happiness is that of love. This not only involves giving warmth and closeness to others but also to yourself. So often, we hear our children say they are not good enough or we beat ourselves up for seemingly not doing a good enough job. It is not until you can show kindness to yourself that you can then build healthy and positive relationships. Why not come along to our mindfulness group to help you develop the skill of loving-kindness meditation. Please contact Sue Smith for more information.
Finally, you might like to know living in an international community who are the happiest people. According to the World Happiness report, the three happiest countries are Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark. Why not make friends with someone from one of these countries and discover their secret.
Happy Strengths Year!
World Happiness report 2015
Sue Smith, BISS Puxi Well-being Coordinator