I founded a non-profit to provide young people with the skills to live happier lives. In the wake of the uproar around the state of education, here are five tips that every students and parent needs to know. These simple points can help any student right now.
1. Academic intelligence is great, but emotional intelligence allows you to ride the ups and downs of life. There's a call today to radically transform education, by fixing schools and hiring better teachers. This is good, but it ignores an important fact. Even though academic intelligence is very important, it by itself does not guarantee a happy life. There are many students who make it to college only to find the situation there so stressful that they don't make it through. Though the emphasis has been to do well on tests, it's no longer enough to be just book smart. The real tests in life involve being able to manage emotions, understand what messages they are giving and then build the skills to cope with whatever comes up. Emotional intelligence (which research shows increases academic performance by up to 10 percent) can be taught in schools, and I believe that it's just as important as learning math, science or English. In many ways, this is a foundation for success in school and in life.
2. Bullying is not OK. In the wake of five suicides in five weeks due to bullying, something is very wrong in how we are treating each other. It's no longer acceptable for students, parents or schools to look the other way and go about their business when others are being taunted and hurt. Having empathy is not just something a person is born with; it's a perspective that can be introduced and a skill that can be practiced. One of the keys to lasting happiness is the more you do for someone else, the happier you will feel. The idea is, if we can take care of each other and appreciate differences, rather than bring each other down, this will make everyone stronger. Every living person has the power to help out when someone is else is being diminished. If a family member were being hurt, we'd rise to the occasion. We are now facing a similar urgency to act, and every voice counts.
3. Knowledge is power. Self-knowledge is a game-changer. Those students who know their strengths and the learning styles that serve them best (that is, whether they learn best with visual cues, through sound, through touching or experiencing something) have a huge advantage. To identify strengths, check out Dr. Martin Seligman's online resources at www.authentichappiness.com.
4. Is your mindset helping you or hurting you? Everyone has natural talents, and it is important to recognize these and build on them. But according to Dr. Carol Dweck, your mindset really influences happiness and success. Students with "fixed" mindsets have been told so many times that they are strong in certain areas, that it can become scary to try anything new. To them, branching out may carry the risk of being judged or failing. Those brought up with "growth" mindsets experience more joy in learning something for the first time. They know that the more they try, the more they'll discover, even with the inevitable challenges that are all part of the experience. So, hearing "You're a genius" can set up a lot of pressure for a student. Praising effort rather than performance, as in, "Wow, you're working so hard, great job," can actually make it easier for them to jump into uncharted territory and enjoy the journey along the way.
5. An attitude of gratitude will make you happier. Gratitude is a pillar of long-term happiness. Some ways to build more gratitude are: think of a few things you are grateful for, a person who was there for you, an amazing game, a memorable meal, even something really beautiful in nature, whatever makes you happy. Remember it and write it down. It could be once a week, three times a week, or every night. Even writing a letter of thanks to someone special in your life (whether you send it or not) can also make a huge difference. Studies show that people who do this start to focus on the good things in life instead of ruminating on their problems.
What we focus on tends to grow, so why not grow the good stuff?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on your education and on what you are grateful for today.
Randy Taran is the founder of the non-profit Project Happiness and co-author with Maria Lineger of the Project Happiness Handbook. Catch Randy and get updates on her vision for a world happiness (r)evolution via Twitter @randytaran and the Facebook Project Happiness group. Don't forget to sign up for the free, nifty Project Happiness Newsletter, B Happy 2.