As the Superintendent/Principal of Grant Elementary School, I get to work with great people. At any time, I can step out of my office, jump into any classroom and see some amazing teaching done by some out of this world teachers. For this month’s newsletter, I am going to steal a move that I often observe my great teachers use to start off a lesson. I am going to ask you an “essential question”. My teachers use essential questions to get their kids thinking. A great essential question can help the whole class jump off into an entire unit of study and learning. I have seen it work for them and it might just work for me. Let’s give it a try. My essential question for parents, students, and staff members is: Are you happy?
There are a couple of reasons why I ask that question. First, and foremost, as a school administrator happiness is my business because learning really doesn’t happen without it. Happiness and emotional well-being is a prerequisite for so much of the work that we do on a daily basis with students. The fact is if the parent is not happy, many times the student is not happy. Another reason is because happiness has been on my mind a lot recently. The topic has popped up frequently in the things I read and the conversations that I have with other people. After all, ‘tis the season for “Happy Holidays” greetings from folks we come across and I think that this time of year is a great time to reflect and ask ourselves if we are truly happy.
As you think about my question, let me share with you a few thoughts on the topic of happiness. Some of these thoughts are not my thoughts, but they come from a recent TED Talk from Shawn Achor entitled “The Happy Secret to Better Work”. If you have not seen this TED Talk then you need to stop reading this and watch it. It is a powerful reminder and I believe that there are times when it is more important to be reminded than it is to be taught.
- There are real challenges to happiness. Happiness does not just happen in our world. If we look around at the messages that we are constantly bombarded with and look closer at the bad news to good news ratio it really is not healthy for our psyche. Sometimes our brains pick up on these external cues and we can find ourselves perceiving the world with that same ratio, slipping into cynicism and negativity. We are also being bounced around in an ADD culture of smart phones, social media, and the pressure to multitask amid constant distractions. Sometimes really important things like our health, diet, family and friend connections, and our happiness get lost in the commotion.
- Our formula for happiness is sometimes flawed. So many of us tie happiness to external conditions. If I get this thing, then I will be happy. If I get good grades, I will be happy. If I win this game, I will be happy. If I get this job, then I will be happy. This way of thinking makes happiness a moving target, a destination that our brain never reaches. It puts happiness just out of reach because we begin to train our brain to believe that there will always be another set of conditions.
- The truth is that 90% of our long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world around us but by the way we internally process that world. Our happiness is determined not by what might happen but by how we are making sense of what is happening to us right now. George Bailey teaches us that one. You remember George Bailey from the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. In the end, nothing about George Bailey’s life changed. He lived in the same old drafty house and worked at the same old Building & Loans. But everything about his perception of his life changed and it drastically affected his level of happiness.
So back to my original essential question…Are you happy? I hope you are. The other day I went to one of the wisest persons I know, our very own Foster Grandparent here at Grant, Mr. Ugo Melloni. I asked him what the secret to happiness is and he gave me wise counsel. He said that the secret to happiness is to forget about yourself and serve others. Brilliant, Mr. Melloni, brilliant! It is counter-intuitive, but it is the answer. Happiness comes through the process of making good things happen for other people.
Now, if the answer to my question is no and you are not happy, I have a homework assignment that I think will help you. I am not a doctor but give this a try…take a notebook and take a couple of minutes at the end of each day to record 3 things that you are grateful for and 3 people that you are grateful for. Then, here’s the magic part, let the people that you list know that you are grateful for them and why you are grateful for them. Commit yourself to do this each day for 21 days. It may be hard at first, but stick with it. I promise you that this little exercise will change your perception of the world around you.
These are great days at Grant and there is so much to be grateful for. Thank you for all that you do to help us as we work to make good things happen for your students. I hope you are happy and from the entire Grant School family I want to wish you happy holidays. GO COUGARS!
Be the d1fference…