Leading universities have already taken to teaching happiness or positive psychology as part of curriculum. Happiness courses are seemingly oversubscribed and participants have acknowledged benefits in terms of distinct improvements in life-satisfaction. Such individuals are bound to spread the message and contribute positively and enthusiastically at workplace, family and society. Positive education agenda is the need of the hour and educational institutions must create a ‘center for happiness learning & practice’ to drive this agenda for faculty and students. This write up explores the contours of happiness teaching in educational institutions based on authors own experience of teaching, researching and practicing happiness.– By R. Anand and Prabhat Pankaj*
Can happiness be enhanced in our personal life? Generally speaking, we do leave happiness to chance and think that happiness is a natural phenomenon, it just happens. However, the proliferation of research on human happiness has made it possible to understand few subtle determinants of happiness in our life. It has also transcended into the field of public policy wherein happiness is taken as the goal of development and it is pursued as an aggregate concept.
Particularly, COVID-19 pandemic has brought about the issue of mental health at the center stage. Symptoms of stress, anxiety, negativity, and loss of general wellbeing have started surfacing. It has also taken its toll in many ways, including the incidence of suicide. Why some people are more vulnerable to stress and negativity while others are not? How can we secure wellbeing for ourselves and our near and dear?
What can we learn from the research and practice on happiness and wellbeing? How can we cope with stress? What should we do to create a happy workplace? What can we do to enhance happiness in our life?
Moot questions are: Can our informed understanding enhance happiness? Can happiness be taught? How to drive happiness curriculum?
Driving Happiness Curriculum in School
“Good morning Ms. Khanna! Rohan is much happier these days, in fact 5% happier compared to the last term” could be a scene from a near-future parent-teacher meeting. No, Rohan is not being counselled for some recent trauma or mental condition. This is a normal parent-teacher interaction for a normal kid. Well, this dialogue sounds odd today, isn’t it?
The happiness and emotional adjustment of children is supposed to be central to schooling. Unfortunately, we have lost sight of this goal. The problem of definition as well as measurement has long left happiness out of classrooms, boardrooms, our apartments, our streets and our schools. We have more questions than answers when we contemplate happiness.
Given the same life circumstances, can two individuals have different levels of happiness? Or, despite an adverse circumstance, can someone be happier? What is happiness anyway? Is it some chemical secretion in the body? Or is it some brain waves? Is it a mental experience of peak health and vitality?
Explosion of research in the last two decades is bringing back happiness to centre stage. The United Nations has already published the 9th edition of the happiness ranks of countries. Once again, Finland and Denmark stand out to be at the top of the list. What do Finland and Denmark do differently which other countries can learn from? Is there a role of government and public policy in creating conditions leading to citizens’ happiness? Do we need a ministry and a minister of happiness in the government and in the same token a teacher or a professor of happiness in school, colleges and universities? The answer looks quite affirmative, given the worsening conditions of our society in terms growing incidences of ‘attention-deficit’, mental stress, anxiety and suicide. There is a pervasive loss of purpose in life, resulting into early death and extreme loss of wellbeing.
Several countries, are measuring happiness along with their GDP growth and per-capita income to evaluate the contributions of their governments. The movement to “Gross National Happiness” was pioneered by a small Himalayan kingdom Bhutan in South Asia. Practices have been discovered that can increase individual happiness in proven ways. Active deliberations on happy school, happy city, and happy nation are no more alien and abstract in policy circle.
‘Positive education’ underlining happiness framework is actively being pursued by 20 nations, involving 100’s of schools, 1000’s of educators. For example, Adelaide’s teachers’ education has a strong well-being framework. What are the take-home for our schools? Here are four things our schools can do to make our Rohan’s happier.
1. Increase Active Leisure & ‘Me-Time’
Millionaires are happier than the general population. This is no big news. Both have approximately equal amounts of leisure. This can also be explained. The millionaires are busy making money, so they have less leisure but they get more help for household work, hence it gets compensated. Millionaires, however spend more time on active leisure, like praying, socializing, exercising, volunteering and hobbies. The general population spends more time in passive leisure – watching TV, sleeping, relaxing and doing nothing. It is the higher active leisure that explains the higher happiness of millionaires compared to someone with a decent standard of life. The children at our schools can also enjoy this millionaire lifestyle. Simply creating me-time for playing, painting, reading, problem solving, anything the children choose to do will increase their happiness.
2. Recognize and Encourage a Stoic Response
To act on what is in our control and to reconcile with what is not is stoicism. The sharpness, clarity and speed with which we are able to evaluate this is the only possession we have. It is the only thing that matters to be cultivated. All else, can be taken away by fortune or bestowed by fortune believe the stoics. When we land in our own minds to either decision – to seize and act or to bear and be poised, we can stop the agitation and angst in our minds. The entire nation admired Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan for just this. He had been captured. He did not have any control over what will happen. Since he has nothing to do, he reconciled and displayed the poise he did. Let teachers applaud when our children display such stoicism. This is a sure way to increase their capacity for happiness.
3. Teach Mindfulness
Do you snack without realizing you do? At home, in conversation, have you already stopped listening? You have been mindless! Mindfulness is a practice of bringing back a wise and affectionate attention to our surroundings and ourselves. Mindfulness creates the space between what is happening to you and what you wish to do about it. It allows you to be stoic. Simply being attentive and non-judgemental changes the way you process information. Mindfulness practitioners have even shrunk areas in the brain responsible for stress. Encouraging students to be mindful 20 minutes every morning improves their happiness, reduces stress and allows them to more rationally respond to their challenges. Artists are able to persuade us to consider a scene mindfully. This is why we enjoy art. Let our teachers bring this orientation to the children.
4. Nurture Social Capital
As a fun ritual, the teacher can randomly choose 5 students every week. These students will be briefed secretly. The students are to imaginatively do kind acts to their class fellows. If possible, those acts can be done with an anonymity. When we help others, we release happiness inducing bio-chemicals in our bodies. This ritual can bring your class close to each other. It can form social capital – which has cured depressions, reduced post-operative hospital stays and even reliably increased life-spans!
There is no magic wand. There is no guarantee. However, with a cautious and meticulous understanding of conditions and factors leading to happiness, the chances of staying happy can be enhanced several fold. Noble Laureate Prof Amartya Sen in his book The Idea of Justice, devoted a full chapter on discussing capability approach to happiness. He explained that capability to be happy may differ for two individuals and we can do good to enhance such capability. Happiness Increase Experiments published in peer review journal have empirically demonstrated that individuals can be trained to be twenty-five percent happier through various training programs in from two to ten weeks (Fordyce 1977, 1983).
Teaching Happiness in Online World
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing emphatically, it would be learning to live online. Banking, Shopping, working, learning have so significantly shifted online that we feel that the world has changed forever. India is now already the second largest consumer of Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs). With the New Education policy’s emphasis on increase in higher educational enrolment, learning online will easily quadruple in the next 10 years.
Aryan Chakraborty, a resident of Jaipur city secured admission for his undergrad program in Azim Premji University, Bangalore. While narrating his story of classes which have gone online in full swing he said, “Going online was fun to start with but now I would like to meet my classmates and look forward to campus life.” He further added, “online at times can get stressful, you cannot express as frequently as you would like to.” For some, a continuous and forced online presence is even jittery. Being at the centre of the microphone and the screen is even physically very taxing.
As teachers of a full credit 30 hour course on ‘happiness and wellbeing’, we went online too! The course involves measuring one’s level of wellbeing, diagnosing the reasons for it, plumbing the depths of one’s psyche to remove the derailers and learning proven practices and lifestyle to shift the orbit of happiness and wellbeing.
Students are conscious and keen to be happier based on proven practices that they will accept after experimentation. They capture their positive emotional experiences and analyse them for patterns present and absent. They write their autobiographies to understand how they came to be the person they are. They analyse their transactions with others, their night time dreams to figure out the latent dynamics that runs their self and influences how they see the world. They are willing to disclose more, reflect more. The shade of anonymity that an online mode offers is actually a source of comfort.
The value of building social capital as much as financial capital and talent capital is well realized. The need to accept others, overlook their faults and do business with them is assimilated even more. There is a realization that the other could be going through stuff which I am not even aware of. The value of being open, listening and grateful is cherished a lot more.
Students apply course learnings to build a macro perspective of happier institutions, organizations, neighbourhoods, cities and society in the more online modes we live today. They designed that the inhabitants of these institutions have – more moments of absorption as well as mindfulness, experience the full range of positive emotions, understand their own latent thoughts and feelings, study their time use, increase their social capital, deal more effectively with stress by acting on the controllable factors as opposed to worrying about the uncontrollable ones.
Somewhere in these efforts, a blueprint for wellbeing in the more online world is surely evolving.
- Anand, R (2018) Happiness at Work: Mindfulness, Analysis and Well-being, Sage. New Delhi.
- Chakraborty, Aryan (2021) Importance of Human Interaction, Times of India, Times of Rajasthan, June 26.
- Fordyce, M. W. (1983) A Program to increase happiness: Further studies. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30, 483-498.
- Pankaj, Prabhat and Debnath, Roma M (2008) Optimal Condition of Happiness: Application of Taguchi Robust Parameter Design on Evidences from India, Gross National Happiness: Practice and Measurement: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Gross National Happiness. Centre for Bhutan Studies, Thimphu 2008, pp. 582-610.
- Royal Government of Bhutan (2000) Development Towards Gross National Happiness, Ministry of Finance, Thimphu.
- Sen, Amartya (2009) The Idea of Justice, Allen Lane & Harvard University Press.
- United Nations (2020) World Happiness Report 2020.
- United Nations (2021) World Happiness Report 2021.
*R. Anand is senior advisor to HCL Ltd. and a SAGE author of the book, “Happiness at Work: Mindfulness, Analysis and Wellbeing. Dr Prabhat Pankaj is Director, Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur and an international researcher on happiness. Both teaches course on happiness in B school. The current article has been compiled from the previously published works by the authors, of which few pieces published in the Times of India. The authors can be contacted for further details on the subject of teaching happiness.