Happiness Pillars

The science of happiness is a growing field showing us that happiness can be created within ourselves when we have the right tools. After twenty years in the field of education, I scoured over the literature from the field of positive psychology to determine seven pillars that teachers (and families) can use to design for happiness as a part of learning. What I have found is there is no more important time of the school day than the literacy block to make these pillars our greatest instructional priority if our students’ happiness is to be as important as academic achievement. In fact, when happiness flourishes, children’s achievement soars.

In Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness, I explore these seven pillars of happiness that apply to classrooms, schools, and families:

Connection–it’s why we are here. Studies consistently show that our own happiness is linked with the happiness of those around us. We also know making connections with content is at the heart of learning and creativity. Connection is the first pillar I focus on in my work with schools because without connection, learning will be limited and joy will be lessened. By focusing on connection, we can support students to make meaning and find joy in the process.

We know that trusting young people in our lives to make strong choices leads to self-driven children and young adults. Nearly every cross roads in life after formal schooling ends, will require making choices. Research in the field of literacy also shows us that giving students the power to make their own reading and writing choices matters. If we want to inspire and support lifelong readers, writers, creators, and thinkers, choice must be central to the way we design learning experiences.

For most of us, change comes from challenge. Losing weight. Finding a new job. Finishing a half marathon. Change is dependent on challenge. If we want young people to know they are strong, capable, and empowered, then we need to intentionally think about the level of challenge we create for students. Research shows that attention and motivation are linked. We can help students set logical goals, see learning as a worthwhile adventure, and come to know their strengths by design.

We have long known that play is the work of childhood. But, play is essential at every stage of life. Play is what leads one to practice. Repeated practice leads to mastery. And, mastery leads to positive recognition–something we all crave. We can intentionally design learning experiences for students to play with ideas, play with materials, play with language, and play with purpose. We can also support families to make play the center of their interactions at home.

Our brains are hard-wired for stories. When we know the secrets to great storytelling, our ideas resonate more and our influence grows stronger. We can support young people to know their own story is valued in our classrooms and in our homes. We can give students tools to make their stories stronger. And, we can help young people live their best life story.

Think about a time when you looked up at the stars on a clear night. Or saw a harvest moon on your drive home from work. Or noticed the changes in leaf color from one day to the next. When we see the world through a lens of wonder and awe, our happiness grows. We can help young people to experience the world and our classrooms from a mindset oriented towards discovery. We can support them through cycles of inquiry that give them tools to choose, act, and reflect. When we tap into the pillar of discovery in our classrooms, students learn content but they also learn about themselves.

Our bodies are built to move. When we leverage the mind-body connection, learning grows stronger and we remember more. In our classrooms, we can intentionally design for movement as a part of learning through daily whole class rituals, small group learning experiences, and by giving students opportunities to tap into what makes them feel strong inside and out.

© 2019 Katie Egan Cunningham