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5 Ways to Celebrate the International Day of Happiness in Your Classroom

By: Emily Larson, Head of Research, IPEN

 

Brief History of UN Decision

 In 2012 the United Nations hosted the first ever UN Conference on Happiness in New York. As a result of this meeting, the United Nations unanimously declared March 20th as the International Day of Happiness. This decision was inspired by leaders in Bhutan – a country that has pioneered efforts to create a more inclusive measurement of national progress called Gross National Happiness. The International Day of Happiness is an attempt to promote a more balanced and sustainable approach to economic growth that fosters individual happiness and well-being. 

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For the official UN resolution document click here.

To read the 1st ever World Happiness Report click here.

For further information on the International Day of Happiness click here.

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 To celebrate, IPEN has come up with these evidence-based ideas to make this day meaningful in your classroom:

1. What Makes You Happy Drawings/Photos

Activity Directions

Have students get into small groups and reflect for a few minutes on what makes them happy – an easier way for younger students to understand can be to ask them “what made you smile this week?” The things that make us happy can be really big, like our family, but they can also be really small, like a sunny day.

Once they have thought of something that makes them happy, ask them to draw a picture and share it with the class. For older students ask them to take a photo of something that makes them happy. Hang the pictures in the classroom or have them bring it home to share with their family.

Why do it?

Reflecting on what makes us happy, or what makes us smile, is a way to increase our positive emotions. This activity will help students bring awareness to what makes them happy and incorporate more of these activities into their daily routines.

Having more positive emotion has been linked to:

- Quicker recovery from illness [i]

- Prevention of illness [ii] [iii]

- Allows you to better deal with stressful situations [iv]

- Higher incomes and more praise at work [v]

- Being viewed as more likable, competent, and intelligent [vi]

- Experiencing more creativity [vii]

- More efficient when making decisions [viii]

- Longevity [ix]

- Increased persistence and greater task performance [x]

For an empirical look at the effects of happiness click here.

 

2. The 3 Good Things

Activity Directions

Gratitude exercises can manifest in many different ways, they can be solitary or group activities – however, since today is all about connecting with others, we suggest you make this a group gratitude exercise.

First, pair students into small groups of 3-4. Next, ask them to share three good things that happened to them today with their group mates. Remind them that good things can be anywhere and any size from something big like getting a new baby sister, to something smaller like your friend bringing you candy to school. Take this as an opportunity to practice active listening and storytelling skills.

 Once everyone has shared, allow the class to reflect on how this activity made them feel (i.e. did you smile while doing this? Did you feel closer to the people sharing? Do you have more energy?). 

Why do it?

The saying goes that “not every day is good, but there is good in every day” – gratitude is a way to bring awareness to the good all around us. Practicing gratitude in the classroom can change the lens with which our students view the World.

Gratitude has been linked to:

- Positive affects on cardiovascular and immune functioning [xi]

- More satisfaction and happiness [xii]

- Enjoyment of work [xiii]

- Better exercise habits [xiv]

- Positive moods [xv]

- Good sleep patterns [xvi]

- Less depression [xvii]

- More prosocial behaviors [xviii] [xix] [xx]

More specifically, The 3 Good Things Exercise has been studied and linked to:

- Overcoming adaptation and preventing taking things for granted [xxi]

- Increased well-being and happiness [xxii] [xxiii]

- Decreased depressive symptoms for six-months [xxiv]

- Greater school satisfaction [xxv]

- Increased social & emotional functioning [xxvi]

- Increased academic motivation [xxvii]

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For more information, The Greater Good Science Center has some excellent resources on cultivating gratitude in students – click here.

 

3. Making gratitude cards

Activity Directions

For this activity encourage your students to think of someone who helps them every day in small ways but doesn’t get the thanks they deserve. For example, a teacher, the lunch lady, their parents, or the bus driver. Allow the students time to draw a personal card with a short message explaining why they are grateful for this person. Remind the students to hand deliver the card! 

Why do it?

Making gratitude cards has similar effects to the 3 Good Things exercise above – namely, increasing the amount of gratitude students feel. In this exercise not only are you increasing student’s gratitude, but also the positive emotion of their deserving recipients. According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, the gratitude visit positively changed participant’s lives for a one-month period.[xxviii]

 

4. Random acts of kindness

Activity Directions

First, pair students in groups of 2-3 for this activity. In order to explain to the class what a random act of kindness is, it may be useful to show some fun videos or let them visit this website for some ideas. As a group, once they have decided on an act of kindness have them make a plan of how they will accomplish this act of kindness by the end of the day.

Once their act has been accomplished, allow each group to share what their random act of kindness was, how they did it, and what the outcome was.

Why do it?

Have you ever heard the phrase “nice guys finish last”? Recent research has been proving this common saying wrong. Wharton professor Adam Grant researches what he calls givers, takers, and matchers. Givers, are those who give without expecting anything in return; Takers, are those people we describe as “free-loaders” who are constantly taking but not giving back; Matchers, are those who fall in-between, who strive to give and take equally. [xxix]

When comparing his data, Grant found that surprisingly, givers* actually rise to the top while fueling creativity and teamwork amongst co-workers.[xxx] Proving that maybe nice guys finish first. 

Teaching students how to be kind and give has been the topic of study for researchers in Vancouver. In their study, 19 classrooms were instructed to perform three acts of kindness over the course of 4 weeks. Students in the acts of kindness group increased in measures of well-being and peer acceptance compared to their peers.[xxxi]

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For more research on the benefits of kindness click here.

To read NYT article “Nice Guys Finish First” by David Brooks click here.

To hear Adam Grant explain the difference between Givers, Takers, and Matchers click here.

* In his work, Grant found a difference between givers. One kind of giver, who always put others before their own interest, performed worse compared to takers and matchers. The successful giver, who gave while still considering their own interests and goals, were the ones who outperformed the takers and matchers. Read more here.

 

5. Mindful Savoring

Activity Directions

This activity is a solitary and silent activity. At the beginning of class, ask the students to think of a time they were truly happy. Next, ask them to close their eyes and try to remember that day, who they were with, what they were wearing, where they were. Ask them to recall the way they felt that day and why they were so happy – really relive the moment. Allow the students to sit with this memory for 5 minutes before beginning class.

Why do it?

Savoring is a way to enhance or capitalize on the positive emotions from a moment in the past, present, or imagined future.[xxxii] The act of savoring has been shown to increase happiness.[xxxiii] In one study, students who were instructed to positively savor or reminisce twice daily for 10 days increased the happiness they felt daily compared to the control group.[xxxiv]

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Here is a useful article for what Rick Hanson at the Greater Good Center calls “taking in the good”.

 

 

 Reference

[i] Pressman, S. D., & Cohen, S. (2005). Does positive affect influence health? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 925–71. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.925

[ii] Pressman, S. D., & Cohen, S. (2005). Does positive affect influence health? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 925–71. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.925

[iii] Salovey, P., Rothman, A. J., Detweiler, J. B., & Steward, W. T. (2000). Emotional states and physical health. The American Psychologist, 55(1), 110–21. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11392855

[iv] Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crises? A Prospective study of resilience and emotions following terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365–376.

[v] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–55. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803

[vi] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–55. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803

[vii] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–55. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803

[viii] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–55. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803

[ix] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–55. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803

[x] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–55. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803

[xi] Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377

[xii] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890–905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[xiii] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890–905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[xiv] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890–905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[xv] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890–905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[xvi] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890–905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[xvii] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890–905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[xviii] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890–905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[xix] Bartlett, M. Y., & DeSteno, D. (2006). Gratitude and prosocial behavior: Helping when it costs you. Psychological Science, 17, 319– 325.

[xx] Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: an experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of school psychology, 46(2), 213–33. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2007.03.005

[xxi] Emmons, R. A. (2008). Gratitude, subjective well-being, and the brain. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 469–489). New York: Guilford Press.

[xxii] Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377

[xxiii] Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A, Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. The American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–21. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

[xxiv] Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A, Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. The American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–21. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

[xxv] Froh, J. J., Miller, D. N., & Snyder, S. F. (2007). Gratitude in children and adolescents: Development, assesment, and school-based intervention. School Psychology Forum, 2(1-13).

[xxvi] Froh, J. J., Miller, D. N., & Snyder, S. F. (2007). Gratitude in children and adolescents: Development, assesment, and school-based intervention. School Psychology Forum, 2(1-13).

[xxvii] Froh, J. J., Miller, D. N., & Snyder, S. F. (2007). Gratitude in children and adolescents: Development, assesment, and school-based intervention. School Psychology Forum, 2(1-13).

[xxviii] Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A, Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. The American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–21. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

[xxix] Grant, A. (2013). Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. Hachette UK.

[xxx] Grant, A. (2013). Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. Hachette UK.

[xxxi] Layous, K., Nelson, S. K., Oberle, E., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). Kindness counts: Prompting prosocial behavior in preadolescents boosts peer acceptance and well-being. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e51380. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051380

[xxxii] Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

[xxxiii] Jose, P. E., Lim, B. T., & Bryant, F. B. (2012). Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology7(3), 176-187.

[xxxiv] Bryant, F. B., Smart, C. M., King, S. P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 22-260.