Teaching Happiness Skills at School

How can the schools help develop the life skills YOUR child needs the most

Like Comment

Last Friday I gave a keynote to the Global Educational Leadership Conference in Singapore, speaking to 600 principals of primary and secondary schools. My talk was a call to highlight the importance of well-being and resilience of children in the educational environments already sufficiently focused on the academic achievement.

The reasons for the focus on the development of well-being in children are twofold. On the one hand, developed countries are facing an unprecedented increase in childhood and adolescent depression and anxiety disorders. On the other hand, a substantial body of research documents the benefits of well-being. Research demonstrates that happy people are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, relationships, health, longevity, income, academic and work performance. They are more creative, able to multitask and endure boring tasks, are more trusting, helpful and sociable. What’s more, recent studies of Alejandro Adler show that the schools teaching happiness skills outperform academically the schools teaching a more standard health curriculum, so focusing on well-being is a plus even when it comes to the core mission of the school.

Positive education aims to develop the skills of well-being, flourishing and optimal functioning in children, teenagers and students, as well as parents, teachers and, more generally, educational institutions. Instead of utilising a trouble-shooting approach, still widespread when it comes to psychological functioning, positive education emphasises a preventative or enabling approach to education. Based on the established discipline of positive psychology, positive education is underpinned by theories and empirical research in this area.

So what are these happiness skills all about? Here are some ideas:

·Happiness skills are about being aware of the happiness traps, such as placing the importance on power, money-making and artificial beauty;

·They are about learning when to chose rather than what to choose;

·They are about knowing to be content with the little things in life, such as the freshness of the spring air, a phone call from a friend or a movie night in;

·They are about using the right tools at the right moment – whether it is a mindfulness minute, a run around the block or a re-framing activity;

·And primarily, they are about knowing that happiness works in the inside-out rather than outside-in direction.

Many of present positive educational initiatives centre around the development, implementation and empirical validation of varied educational curricula and programmes. Examples in the UK include the Penn Resiliency Programme, the Australian-born Bounce Back! – resilience skills integrated into mainstream lessons, the teacher-friendly Personal Well-Being Lessons written by Lucy Ryan and myself and the SPARK Resilience Programmeimplemented in several schools across the UK, Japan and France. In the UK right now, the call for positive education is particularly urgent given that teachers are given less support around the emotional and behavioural issues the school kids are facing.

Dr Ilona Boniwell

Strategic Programme Leader, MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and CEO, Positran, Positran and Anglia Ruskin University

Who am I? I suppose, the very first answer would be a “positive psychologist”, since all my career and professional achievements have something to do with this wonderful area of scholarship. I founded and headed the first Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) in Europe, created the European Network of Positive Psychology, organised the first European Congress of Positive Psychology (June 2002, Winchester), and was the first vice-chair of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Nowadays, I run the iMAPP, international MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, teach positive leadership at l’Ecole Centrale Paris (a top engineering school in France) and run Positran, a busy consultancy dedicated to achieving transformation through positive psychology. When it comes to my areas of expertise, I have quite a few passions: psychology of time, resilience, eudaimonic well-being and applications of positive psychology to oneself, leadership, coaching, parenting and education. I am the author or editor of six books (including Positive Psychology in a Nutshell and the Oxford Handbook of Happiness) and multiple academic and popular articles. My media work included BBC, Guardian, Times, Psychologies, Top Sante and Cosmopolitan. I am often invited to give keynote addresses to psychologists, coaches, and other professional audiences, including delivering a TEDx talk last year. Every year, I teach hundreds of leaders and mature students in the UK, France, Portugal, Singapore, Japan and many other countries across the world on how to use positive psychology in very real, tangible, nuts-and-bolts ways. Who am I personally? First of all, I am a wife and a mother or step-mother to five children (2, 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old). In fact, I progressed from having two to five children in the space of one year, so I had to really learn to walk the talk when it comes to positive parenting. Since last November, I've had the pleasure and the privilege to be a monthly Psychologies columnist, writing about the triumphs and challenges of running a large step-family; being friends with the ex-wife and negotiating educational expectations… I speak four languages, and can no longer clearly say where I am from (mixing Russian, Latvian, British and French origins and experiences). I have two cats and one dog, and I love ideas, making sense, creating something new from existing elements, and making tiny baby steps to changing the world towards something better.


Go to the profile of Dr. Mandy Lehto
over 7 years ago
Thanks Ilona for this important blog. They have implemented a mindfulness club at my son's school. I hope our education system is generally moving in the right direction in this respect. These are skills for life. Thank you for sharing.