SEAL BESTSELLER! Teaching Happiness explains how to create a positive learning environment. It explores the key aspects of positive psychology using social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL), and takes you through ten steps for creating a positive classroom environment for your students

Written by Ruth MacConville

Teaching Happiness: A ten-step curriculum for creating positive classrooms will enable you to teach young people the attitude change, knowledge, practice and skill developments that are essential for building happiness, in a creative and engaging manner. This exciting resource will help you to teach your students practical skills that they can use to make their lives better through a developmental programme of action.

There are ten interactive sessions which cover different aspects of happiness. Each session is largely based on group discussions and partner work to ensure that pupils learn more about themselves and others.

Throughout the programme pupils are introduced to the insights of positive psychology:

  • flexible thinking skills
  • learned optimism
  • the concepts of signature strengths and developing a ‘growth’ mindset.

The Teaching Happiness: A ten-step curriculum for creating positive classrooms programme is intended to be delivered with a sense of fun and celebration to engage and inspire all learners. Young people are encouraged to practice the skills and ideas that are introduced in the sessions in their everyday lives with home practice in the form of take away activities which are a core element of the programme. The activities will enable pupils to respond at their own levels and they are designed to be delivered in sequence in order to maximise and reinforce learning. The programme is suitable for a range of ages.

Examples of feedback from pupils and their responses to activities are included throughout the text in order to reflect pupils’ real life experiences and also support staff in their delivery of the programme.

An overview of what is covered in the sessions:

Session 1 – WWW: What Works Well
In the introductory session children are introduced to the process of appreciative inquiry that was developed by Professor Cooperrider (2001). WWW involves firstly focusing on what works or has worked well in a variety of situations, for example in relationships, organizations and communities rather than what hasn’t worked. Students are also encouraged to begin a happiness diary to log times of happiness so that the elements of this session become more transparent.

Session 2 – WOW: Wishing others well
The purpose of this session is to enable pupils to discover that investing in social relationships is a potent strategy on the journey to becoming happier, the first task, adapted from the toolbox of ‘Circle of Friends’, involves the pupils in creating a relationship map.

Session 3 – Enjoy
In this third session children are introduced to interventions; conscious efforts, actions, and thoughts which positive psychologists have identified can enhance individual wellbeing. These positive interventions are adaptable, open to interpretation and research has verified that they are strongly correlated with increased individual happiness.

Session 4 – Go with the flow
The concept of flow suggests that the key to happiness has nothing to do with ease or comfort and everything to do with being engaged in the now. Happiness is a process rather than an outcome. In this session children are introduced to the concept of flow and explore a range of activities from their own experience that can generate a state of flow.

Session 5 – Elastic brain
For decades we have thought that the cognitive capacity of our brains is genetically determined however it is becoming increasingly understood that cognitive fitness is a lifestyle choice. In this session pupils are introduced to the concepts of `fixed’ and `growth’ mindsets. This session also introduces children to `learning zones’ which is a strategy for enabling them to learn more about the stages of learning and increase their persistence.

Session 6 – Good at it
This session enables pupils to begin to identify their `signature strengths’. Seligman (2003) identified twenty four signature strengths which are associated with moral traits such as integrity, valour, and kindness. Building strengths and virtue is not about learning and training but about discovery, creation and ownership.

Session 7 – Goal power
Goals are an important part of the growth mindset and are an important way of using and building on signature strengths. In this session children learn that striving for something personally significant is important for both happiness and success and that people who have dreams and aspirations are happier than those who do not.

Session 8 – Thought catching
By this stage in the programme pupils have learnt that it is important for individuals to experience positive emotions, as they promote good health, foster fulfilling relationships and also help to build intellectual and psychological reserves. In this session children learn that although it is very important to be optimistic in fact our brain has a negative default position and this means that we need to consciously work at being positive.

Session 9 – Think good: feel good
Once pupils have understood the concept of thought catching the next stage is to build the link between thinking and feeling emphasising that how we feel does not just come out of the blue. The aim of the session is to enable children to understand that happy and unhappy individuals construe the world differently. When unhappy people interpret the world they tend to see the negative in an event. When happy people interpret the world they tend to see the positive (Brebner, 1995). This session trains children in the use of cognitive skills that promote a resilient approach to adversity.

Session 10 – Let’s party
Celebration is a skill. It involves sharing with others, building memories, receiving praise and congratulations. It is a way of building happy, enjoyable events and therefore happy memories. Happy memories are an important part of resilience. This final session concentrates on celebrating.