‘In Pursuit of Happiness’ - My Thoughts-My Thoughts-Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
15 November, 2023

‘In Pursuit of Happiness’ - My Thoughts

‘In Pursuit of Happiness’ - My Thoughts-My Thoughts-Screenshot 20231115 at 160214

I read with great interest Zofia Niemtus’ recent talking piece In Pursuit of Happiness in the new Nord Anglia Education magazine INSIGHTS, which I hope you’ve all had a chance to read too.

As the Wellbeing lead at Nord Anglia International School (NAIS) Shanghai, Pudong, I’d like to share my thoughts on the article and how the concept of ‘happiness’ and wellbeing is enmeshed within everything we do here.

Happiness is something we all strive for, it is something everyone wants to achieve and something we want our students, family and friends to have a life filled with and yet measuring and quantifying happiness is something that many find impossible to do. But what is “happiness”? What does that mean? Is it a state of being or is it simply an idea and something that we hope to achieve one day? How can we truly measure and understand the role of happiness and the impact it has on our lives?

Scientists and clinical psychologists are constantly investigating and researching the mind and the link between our emotions and our physical health. Over the years, it has become clear that a person’s mental health and way of thinking makes a significant impact on their physical health; anxiety, thoughts of depression and loneliness can lead to rashes on the body, stomach pain and severe migraine headaches – the mind is an extremely powerful tool that holds an immense amount of power over the body, it is essential that we take the time to care for it and nurture it. A happy and healthy mind leads to a happy and healthy body.

At NAIS Pudong we pride ourselves in putting the happiness and wellbeing of our students at the forefront of our teaching and learning. The school offers a variety of extra-curricular activities that promote creative thinking and team building as well as lessons that are specifically tailored to the individual students. I believe that to be a truly outstanding teacher means knowing your students, knowing how they learn, knowing what makes them sad and knowing what makes them happy; building a relationship with your students so that you become the person they trust and the person that they want to learn from, that is what will change their way of thinking and will change their attitude towards learning. Children and teenagers need to build their own independence and learning strategies, but they cannot do that without the support network formed within the walls of school.

Although we cannot guarantee happiness and elation for every single child every day, we can guarantee that we will ensure every student feels safe and is provided with opportunities to build their confidence and understanding of their own mental health. With links to Shanghai-based counsellors CCS, daily open-door opportunities to talk, and regular catch ups, we give students an opportunity to share and unload. 

We regularly hear and read about “a positive mindset” but what does that mean? If I feel sad or anxious, if I’m grieving or going through a heartbreak, if I have an exam coming up and can’t remember the simple definitions; how can I simply have “a positive mindset”, how can someone achieve happiness when at times it seems almost impossible? In my opinion, the idea of “a positive mindset” is different to that of “happiness”. “Happiness” is what we want, it is the end goal, the target. However, the “positive mindset” is the daily small tasks which by doing everyday eventually leads to happiness. For example, walking outside every day for half an hour has been proven to reduce heart disease and increase serotonin, likewise writing down three small things you are grateful for releases a surge of dopamine in the brain which gives you the same warm feeling as receiving a hug. 

Dean Burnett, an author and neuroscientist, states in his book that the key to happiness is “home” - having a place of belonging and a community that makes a person feel relaxed and appreciated. For many of our students and staff, Shanghai is not our “home”. As someone who grew up in the transient world of being a third culture kid and moving between countries and schools, I know how challenging it can be to live in a place that doesn’t really feel like “home” or to feel like you don’t really belong. Having a school that provides our community with that same feeling of “home” so that all members of the community feel respected, understood and like they belong somewhere is essential in an international and diverse environment. It is vital that we, as a school, provide our community with opportunities for the students and staff to be considerate, creative and confident so they can reach their happiest selves. 

Written by Emma Styles