Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Mental Health Awareness Week - The Happiness Project

Mental Health Awareness Week - The Happiness Project

 
Happiness, it is elusive, ephemeral and greatly desired. But how do we improve or even achieve it in RGS? As well as being a much desired trait, happiness is good for you, seems to boost your immune system and seems to make people a little more pro-social. With greater affluence and less immediate physical needs to attend to, so we attend more to our own happiness.
 
Is happiness too individual to think about collectively?  Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family are unhappy in their own way”. Whether this is true or not, it is thought provoking. To enhance happiness in our school community perhaps we need to understand how other communities define or feel happiness. And there the complexity starts. For the Amish, duty and sacrifice are at the heart of their happiness, sacrificing their own wants and the more they live an obedient life, the happier they say they are. Alternatively, the Masai are very often proud people who say the more status and recognition they have, the happier they are, and this requires bold and brazen behaviour to feel this happiness.
 
I doubt the Year 11s would agree that the more obedient they are, the happier they will become.  So maybe we need to look more at are our own communities. In Western Europe, reports of happiness are linked to autonomy, freedom and self-expression, the unit of measurement being the individual. Individualists want to make their mark, be creative and be unique to feel happy. In Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, happiness is linked to working for the group, sharing credit with others and promoting the group overall, with the unit of measurement being the group. Happiness means working for the group, sharing credit with others and wanting to promote harmony. Would our exam system allow for collectivists to thrive, or is it a system which supports the individualist way of thinking?
 
People often think of happiness as a commodity, such as a car or a smart phone. However it is more a mechanism about connecting with others, about reaching out to others. A consequence of happiness is a pro-social attitude. We also know that enough money helps happiness, but high materialists are lower in happiness. But do students want to achieve a good enough income with pro-social benefits, or is high individual achievement in school what they believe is their way to happiness?
 
Researchers also tell us that to increase our feelings of happiness, focusing on the future is not so effective. Your happiest moments are behind you, for now. Memory is a very reliable repository of happy times and you know it was good and you can savour it and drag it into the present. The future is more uncertain but researchers suggest that we be hopeful for good moments in the future. We aren’t entitled to them, we can’t guarantee them, but we are likely to have many good moments in the future. Frequently positively reminiscing, usually with friends, is what helps people feel happy.
 
US writer Gretchen Reuben, set herself a goal of being a happier version of herself. She identified areas of own life to focus on which for her included friendship, parenthood, friendship, marriage and set herself manageable and realistic habits. She planned 21 different strategies to make or break habits, although be aware that this is not a one size fits all approach, as individualist’s happiness will be highly subjective.
 
Although we do know that novelty and challenge make people happier, and acting in an energetic, cheerful, happy way can have a surprisingly large influence on happiness. We often think we act because of how we feel, but actually we feel because of the way we act. It is hard to consciously change our emotional states, but much easier to change our behaviours, for example acting patient makes us feel patient, acting cheerful makes us feel happy.
  
To devise your own happiness project, be concrete and specific with yourself and transcribed it into actual actions. The body is a good place to start, ensuring enough sleep, exercise or focusing on appreciating certain smells or example.
  
Under this, both ancient philosophers and modern day researchers agree that the key to happiness is relationships, building and strengthening relationships. So to build an authentic, fulfilling life we could help others, celebrate others successes and feel compassion towards others and yourself. And finally and perhaps most importantly, appreciate the happiness you already have.