Three words that help to help make school work

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Happiness at the best of times is deeply personal and often elusive…in fact, the range of people’s experiences over the last 14 months means that talk of happiness might be seen as glib, foolish, or even provocative.

But trust me, if I’ve learned anything in my life it is that happiness can be found in the most unlikely places if you are prepared to work at it…even in the middle of a global pandemic and yes, even at school!!

You may have to look really hard; you may have to tweak your mindset; or change your focus but happiness is definitely there. Whatever your circumstances, you get to choose how you respond in any given situation…so happiness is often a choice…let me explain more…

I work in education and I am in and out of different schools every day – I carry two personal reminders with me (call them affirmations if you like) as reminders to keep my happiness on track  – ‘See The Best Part’ and ‘Bring The Joy’ – I actually have these lines written on a small piece of card so that whatever situation I find myself in school, family or shop, how I choose to respond is up to me. I get to choose the sort of teacher, trainer or leader I get to be…I get to choose the sort of Dad, Son or customer too!

Admittedly, it was very different when I was a teenager: happiness was a new pair of trainers. Even happier if those trainers were accompanied with a new jacket and an Aston Villa away win! Simple really. While for plenty of teenagers today a new pair of trainers might bring happiness, it is more likely that happiness is found in a new phone or likes on social media. Nothing wrong with any of that. Likewise, happiness for adults might start (and end) with likes on their social media…or clothes, a little retail therapy, maybe a meal in a fancy restaurant or ‘Out Out’. Plenty of happiness is to be found in any of these. Yet I’m going to suggest something a little controversial…what if this ‘material’ happiness is only a shallow happiness, a short-lived happiness…happiness only at a surface level. Maybe, a deeper happiness is available…and closer than you think if you are prepared to work at it?

The ancient spiritual traditions have devoted thousands of years trying to come to terms with and manage the Human Condition. They tell us that real happiness is usually found in something DEEPER than material goods or fleeting experiences….something that requires practice but definitely in our control.

Let’s try GRATITUDE

Let’s try CONNECTION & COMMUNITY

Let’s try KINDNESS

Ok, this is all very social-media-hashtag-motivational-quote so how does it play out in school?

Everyday people all over school do things to help you, so generously offer your thanks. Gratitude is good because it helps you to enjoy and appreciate what you have got and can help to put your problems into perspective. Maybe it will help you not to hanker less after what you haven’t got!

We are social beings and connection and community reminds us that we are not alone, we are getting through these current times because we reach out, by text, message video call…even a pointy elbow to show we see other people and we are getting through this together.

Kindness comes out of these connections when we help other people – small or large service gives you happiness.

None of these three are easy but their importance is widely recognised in any quest for happiness and there is a reason why those motivational quotes are all over socials!

Every day at school you get to practice these values, in fact you are actively encouraged and rewarded for acting out these values. School works remarkably well when you are working at gratitude, connection and kindness – it makes the hard work you are expected to do every day much easier!

And try this – School actually encourages you to go further into happiness. School gives you the opportunity to find your MEANING & PURPOSE – Sure, this is often called next steps, IAG or careers but you are supported in finding what it is that you are going to do with your life. School won’t give you the specific training to be doctor, writer or vlogger but it will open doors, create opportunities and start you on the path to the rest of your productive life.

So, in form time this week try and reflect on happiness through meaning and purpose…try this;

Write a list of all the things you are interested in – I mean, what do you do when you have free time? What are you prepared to work at and do for a long time? What do you like doing so much that time slips away and you are lost in the activity for hours? What would you do whether you were paid or not for doing it? Come up with a list of 10-15 activities or interests.

Is there a pattern? connect some of them together…these connections are what you are interested in. Identify the topic and camp out here…watch a TED talk; listen to a podcast; read a blog; read an article or read a book on this topic. (when I did this, my interest in History, Teaching & Self Improvement landed me on Greek Stoic Philosophy and my life was genuinely transformed!)

Then (and this is the crucial bit!) join your topic and new learning up with a subject in school and speak to teachers. They mostly remember what is like to be passionate about something, in fact they are prime examples of finding a passion and making it their job! This is all adding another dimension to school, work and MAKING SCHJOOL WORK FOR YOU!

The final, nerve-wracking step is to go public on your interest – write something, create a film or join and contribute to a group. This is where your meaning and purpose gets really exciting. A final top tip on this – plenty of students tell me they want to work for themselves and be entrepreneurs…so, answer a question and solve a problem in the area you are interested in. If you serve a need that people have not only will you find meaning and purpose you also get paid really well!

I wish I had done exercise when I was a teenager…I chased happiness in new trainers, jackets and villa away wins for far too long and only settled on what I knew was my passion (teaching & learning) in my mid twenties…now I work for myself and run my own business doing what I love…and can mostly say I love my job and am happy.

Look around you and start to SEE THE BEST PART of school. See the opportunities you have to practice kindness, gratitude and connection and build a deeper personal happiness. You may even find a meaning and purpose that will extend far away from school and into a happier future. It’s not easy – you may have to look really hard and it takes focused work at it but start today and BRING THE JOY!