Can You Teach Happiness?


A TEDx event and book inspire middle school teachers and students to test out in practice the author’s ideas for building a curriculum on happiness. By Victoria Obenchain, The Saklan School Science Specialist and Middle School Science Teacher. For more information on the program at Saklan, visit

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 newsletter of the California Association of Independent Schools. You can read the article in it’s original format on page 20 and 21 of the newsletter –

Last Spring, teachers at the Saklan School attended the TEDx conference on compassion in Richmond, California. Our goal was to gain an understanding of how we could help teach compassion to our middle school students. We spent the day listening to many inspirational speakers, songwriters, and curriculum designers. It was there that we spotted a book that resonated with both our school’s mission and the unique challenges of teaching middle school.

In a time when stress, anxiety, pressure, and fear of failure haunt so many middle school and high school students, Randy Taran’s Project Happiness Handbook offers tools for managing difficult situations and building life-long happiness. The book itself is fun, colorful, and interactive. It encourages readers to brainstorm, write, draw, and self-reflect while examining the differences between joy (short-term pleasure) and happiness (true contentment). It also explores how negative self-talk can become a habit that leads to self-deprecation and depression, while helping readers develop the self-awareness and skills necessary to lead positive, productive lives.

When we found the book, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Our dean contacted the author and explained how we were going to use it in our advisories. Randy was overjoyed to hear this as she was working on creating a curriculum for the exact same purpose. We decided to partner up, and test out her lesson plans in our eighth grade leadership class.

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Field Report: Marshall Drawing the Dream

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Last week’s session with the Marshall Elementary kids pointed to something very important in working with young kids. Structure, especially with something as fluid and mercurial as happiness, is essential. In the next few weeks, we will work to develop quantifying tools for the students to do self check-ins and ‘measure’ their happiness. Unfortunately, as we well know, most research in this field has been done in adults. Our strategy for developing this will be to work closely with the kids because after all, they are the true masters in determining their state of being. We worked through more breathing exercises to reinforce healthy focusing & stress management techniques and closed with a drawing activity. We asked the kids to draw something that made them happy and focus on that feeling throughout the exercise. The kids will soon begin prepping for their last round of mandatory tests, and we feel an urgency to help them approach this challenge with a healthy, empowered mindset.

From Flower come Flowers: Field Report from Kathmandu

Hello, I am Kaurav (Khil) Bogati from Kathmandu Nepal. Nepal was thought of as a beautiful and peace country in the years before our favorite king was murdered. Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev is regarded as the best king in our history. He was the source of authentic happiness in the minds of Nepalese people. After his untimely death our Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal which is now called Republic of Nepal is suffering from strikes, blockades, demonstrations, electric power shortages and lack of drinking water. In this crazy situation I found PROJECT HAPPINESS and Rolando Sandor.

Through the Project Happiness organization I am going to bring happiness to the students of Nepal so that it may spread all over the WORLD. I am the luckiest person in the world to work with this project. I also hope that soon we will all unite and bring real happiness which has eluded us in the past. Children are the golden star of our future. With good modern education and technology they can change themselves for good. It begins with personal change and then they can change their family society, nation and the whole world.

I work with the students at Tarun Secondary School. Because of limited resources and severe disruptions to the educational schedule, I’ve only done a few activities with the students from the Project Happiness curriculum. All students in this school come from humble families but are always looking for that golden opportunity to make their life better. I will not let more obstacles limit teaching positive education and to love other human beings. I believe we change the perspective of people for good, then automatically good creates greater good.

I along with my students, I wish to thank everyone at PROJECT HAPPINESS and everyone who is part of this great movement for lasting world-wide change.

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Welcome to the Pilot Test

Between now and the end of the calendar year we’re conducting a pilot test of the “expanded” Project Happiness. This signals the conversion of the blog from just a medium for students to a medium for expressions from the entire Project Happiness community.

For the last 12 months, three cornerstone schools have been working hard to understand lasting happiness and how they can find it for themselves and contribute to it for others.

Now it’s time to blast their findings out to a group of pilot test schools. We will include a couple of dozen teachers and their students in this test. Those teachers and their students will begin contributing to this blog very soon.

Teachers can “register” their class by contacting Maria Lineger by email. And there’s a special web page where pilot testers can get instructions on how to best participate online. Come join us now!

We’re a non-religious organization, but because our first inspiration and interviewee was the Dalai Lama, we get a lot of leads from the Buddhist community. We hope that you can help us discover examples from many different traditions! Please help. A friend sent us a pointer to a recently-released TED video of Tibetan Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard talking about happiness.