How To Cope When Faced With Overwhelming Tragedy

Abby Madi (L) and Peterson Zatterlee comforts Zaterlee's dog Rippy, after a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, May 20, 2013. Credit:Reuters

Abby Madi (L) and Peterson Zatterlee comforts Zaterlee’s dog Rippy, after a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, May 20, 2013. Credit:Reuters

All of us at Project Happiness have been devastated by the recent tragedies in Oklahoma. In the wake of this disaster, one is struck by the sheer power of nature and the impermanence of everything we hold sacred. How can one possibly stay happy during times of extreme crisis or tragedy? Even if we are just watching events on the news, it is natural to get overwhelmed by things out of our control, especially in situations of this magnitude.

One powerful antidote is

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Good Night’s Sleep Linked to Happiness

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-puppy-dog-sleeping-image13312044The researchers analyzed data from 100 middle-aged participants in a longitudinal study of midlife in the United States that included telephone interviews about participants’ daily experience as well as subjective and objective measures of sleeping habits. The study looked at the overall levels of positive emotion that the participants experienced in their lives – those associated with more stable personality traits, as well as daily fluctuations in positive emotions in reaction to daily events.

The team found that, as expected, having a more positive general outlook on life was associated with improved sleep quality. However, they found that the more reactive or fragile a participant’s positive emotions were in relation to external events, the more their sleep was impaired, especially for individuals high in positivity to begin with.

“Previous research suggests that the experience of joy and happiness may slow down the effects of aging by fortifying health-enhancing behaviors such as restorative sleep,” said first author Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. “Our study extends this research by showing that whereas possessing relatively stable high levels of positive emotion may be conducive to improved sleep, unstable highly positive feelings may be associated with poor sleep because such emotions are subject to the vicissitudes of daily influences.” Ong added, “These findings are novel because they point to the complex dynamics associated with fragile happiness and sleep that until now have been largely attributed to unhappy people.”

Ong co-authored the study, “Linking stable and dynamic features of positive affect to sleep,” with Deinera Exner-Cortens and Catherine Riffin, Cornell graduate students; Andrew Steptoe, University of London; Alex Zautra, Arizona State University; and David Almeida, Penn State University.

More information: link.springer.com/… -013-9484-8#
Journal reference: Annals of Behavioral Medicine
Provided by Cornell University
Article appeared originally in MedicalExpress.com

Project Happiness and Native Cry Team Up To Tackle Depression and Suicide On Reservations

SONY DSCBy Lynn Armitage

Sadly, people all over the world suffer from depression. According to the World Health Organization, depression will be the second most debilitating disease after heart disease by the year 2020; and unless something is done about it, by 2030, it will be the No. 1 health issue throughout the world.

It’s especially troubling when our own children battle the blues. More than 10 years ago, after Randy Taran’s then-14-year-old daughter said to her one day, “I want to be happy, but I don’t know how,” Taran soon learned that depression, stress and bullying run rampant among teens everywhere. Determined to help her daughter and others like her find happiness, Taran launched a global movement that went in search of it called Project Happiness.

“My background was in film, so that’s where I started,” explains Taran, who assembled a group of 25 teenagers from three different parts of the world—Santa Cruz, California, Nigeria and India—to make a documentary that tackled the seemingly impossible question, “What is lasting happiness?”

The students’ quest for answers led them to iconic thought leaders, such as director George Lucas, actor and humanitarian Richard Gere, and neuroscientist Richard Davidson. Their journey culminated with a group visit to the XIV Dalai Lama in India, a spiritual leader who is supposed to have all the answers.

With that concept in mind, Project Happiness has grown from an award-winning documentary that has been translated into seven languages into a handbook and educational curriculum that combines positive psychology, mindfulness and neuropsychology, and is available, free of charge, to schools and other educational institutions all over the world. Currently, the Project Happiness curriculum is being taught in schools in more than 55 countries.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Rayna Madero and Taran crossed paths. Madero, a Quechan native who lives in Las Vegas, founded Native Cry Outreach Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention within the Native American community.

Suicide rates in Indian Country are jaw-dropping. Read more at Indian Country Media Network.

When Gratitude Fills Your Heart

Gratitude is a big buzzword these days, and for good reason. Studies are showing that a” conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits” (Emmons and McCullough).

Today I am grateful that I get to work from home on Fridays. Being home today allowed me time with my two godchildren (I live with their family) this morning . While their mother took the toddler to preschool, I danced in the kitchen with the 11-month-old. As we bounced and swayed to the music, he put his head on my shoulder. In a matter of minutes he was sound asleep. I continued dancing with him, feeling gratitude fill my heart for this moment in the kitchen, on a morning when I could work from home.

No sooner had I put him down in the crib when his mother came home with a look of horror on her face. She had just heard on the radio about the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut. In a moment, the sweet feeling in my heart shifted to one of pain and sadness. As I read the news accounts online, I sobbed for the loss of innocent lives, and the extreme loss of the parents whose children were killed.

Unable to focus on anything else, I went on Facebook and saw post after post responding to the shooting. There was comfort in reading my friends’ pain. I was grateful for this social network and the chance to connect with others in real time. It felt as if we were all in the same room crying together, even though miles apart.

Throughout the day, I kept coming back to this article I had started in my mind as I danced with my godson. Gratitude puts our minds focus on the positive. I began the practice of thinking of what I am grateful for, and felt my heart begin to soften and fill with peace again.

Yes, I am angry about what happened. I am angry that this man had access to guns to kill these innocent children. Yes, I want stricter gun control. And yet I know deep in my heart that the way to change the world is not through more laws. It is through acts of human kindness, generosity, empathy, love, and compassion. It is up to us to change the world.

7 Doors: One Student’s Journey to Happiness – Door Two

Last year, students at the University of Southern California piloted a new program from Project Happiness called 7 Doors to Happiness. The program was created as a resource for adults to access their own happiness and to share it with others. One of the USC students, Mecca Moore, blogged about her experience with the 7 Doors to Happiness and asked if she could share it on our site.

This year, this online course is once again being used at the University of Southern California and has expanded to be included in the Science of Happiness courses taught at Stanford University and Tennessee State University. The 7 Doors to Happiness is available to everyone. If you would like to sign up for this online course, please visit http://7doorstohappiness.com.

The second door in the 7 Doors to Happiness program dealt with one of my least favorite subjects: obstacles. Like every person in the world, I’ve had my fair share of obstacles to accept and overcome. Right off the bat Door 2 tackled my biggest obstacles: those inside myself, like self-doubt and anxiety.

What I especially liked from the start was its solution-based approach. The information didn’t stew on the pains of being self-conflicted or angry. It focused more on solving how to best approach problems, even when they’re scary and seem insurmountable. It reminded me again that happiness is always a choice, and if old patterns aren’t working it’s time to change them. I admitted to myself then that even though I was a university student, which should have ensured a constantly changing daily routine, I’d gotten caught in unsuccessful patterns I needed to break. Door 2 laid out how to break them by choosing change.

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Common Ground Magazine Sings Praises of Project Happiness

When Randy Taran’s eldest daughter was a teenager, she approached her mother with a very serious concern: she was stressed out, and while she wanted to be happy, she didn’t know how. Taran, heartbroken and unsure of how to respond to or guide her daughter, first sought the guidance of experts and soon ended up as a visionary leader in the happiness movement.

Her pain as a bewildered parent ultimately led her to found the Palo-Alto-based nonprofit Project Happiness which, through educational programming, guides students and adults alike on the path toward happiness.

Taran has since dedicated her life to this Herculean task – the pursuit of world happiness – and her journey led her to find a way to communicate how to thrive and be happy not only with her daughter but also with young people throughout the world. Extensive research led to the creation of Project Happiness, one of a growing number of educational programs focused on giving young people the tools they need to first find happiness in their lives ad then to share that happiness with the world around them. Project Happiness programs are now in place in thousands of schools in 48 states and 52 countries.

At the heart of Project Happiness is a simple message:

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What Do We Do in the Face of Senseless Tragedy?

Last week, in Aurora, Colorado, we witnessed one of the largest tragedies of its kind in U.S. History. 12 people died and 57 were injured, and it leaves us wondering, WHY? What propels an individual to be so tortured to resort to mass murder of innocent people in a public place? And how do we cope with the aftermath – the sorrow, the trauma and the sense that you never know…

In an odd replay of fiction come to life, so many of the characters in the Batman movie are flat out insane – disconnected from their community, their own inner compass and their very hearts. It’s one thing to watch that on the screen and another to see it acted out in real life with real life consequences. But where do we draw the line?

There is no denying that we are all influenced by the people and the emotional atmosphere we are surrounded with, whether positive and uplifting or harmful and toxic. In Aurora, 70 people have suffered because one person was at the point of no return. Let’s be clear that there is NO excuse for harming anyone. The challenge is what can we do as individuals and communities to try to plant new seeds so this tragedy has less of a chance of erupting again. We can point fingers to one young man who was so sick that he became a mass murderer. But that will not solve the core of the problem. The call to action is for each of us to look at our own lives, attitudes, choices and actions. The question is: can we make any internal changes that can help, both for us and the next generation? From this tragedy of lost lives, hopes and dreams, here are 5 ideas worth considering:

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How can you find happiness in times like these?

I have spent a ton of time lately thinking about how to find happiness in times like these.

I think about all the different situations that surround so many people in my life. So how can you find happiness when: you’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your house, your child is dying, your child has an incurable condition, you have cancer, your parent just died of cancer, or you are getting divorced? Those are just some examples.

How can you be happy amidst all the insanity that envelopes your life when you are dealing with just one of those things, let alone multiple things?

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Reflecting on Struggle: Reaching out to those with depression, Part 1

Reach out for help to get your brain moving againIn this second series of podcasts, I interview Nina Poe, the author of the blog “Reflection on Depression”

(at reflectionondepression.typepad.com). As readers of the Project Happiness Handbook know, there is no magic bullet for happiness and this is doubly true for those suffering from clinical depression. But as compassionate people — whether we are friends, parents, teachers or mentors — we can reach out to those struggling with depression and help connect them with the professional resources to heal. And if you are struggling with depression, reach out to those around you and start down the road to happiness and wellness that Nina talks about here.

Click HERE for Reflecting on Struggle: Podcast 1

And here’s a list of Nina’s favorite resources for depression:

  • http://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome — Mood Gym is a cognitive behavioral therapy site. It’s free, consists of several different modules, and walks the participant through CBT techniques. It’s not a replacement for live therapy, but it’s a good start.
  • http://www.narsad.org/ – NARSAD is my favorite mental health charity, and always gets me excited about the scientific and medical progress we are making in understanding mental health disorders. Also, 100% of donations go to research.
Books on Depression
  • Unholy Ghost:  Writers on depression, Edited by Neil Casey

How Teachers Can Tame the Elephant in the Room: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 5

In this installment, Dr. Brooks helps teachers tame the elephant in the classroom: fear of making mistakes and being humiliated. This fear is so strong that it can severely interfere with learning. Dr. Brooks offers a proactive resilient approach in which teachers address these fears directly and lead students in problem-solving to make the classroom a safe space. He also gives some tips on true discipline as discipleship/teaching: using his latest book (‘Raising a Self-Disciplined Child‘) as a touch point, he talks about how discipline can engender resilience, not resentment:

Click here for Robert Brooks, Part 5

After listening, think about what a safe and nurturing classroom space feels like to you. Take a look at this website for some welcoming and open classroom designs. And then share some ideas for your dream classroom on Twitter — how would you makes space for that elephant with unlimited time and budget?

Why are Resilient People Usually Happy?: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 4

Here Dr. Brooks and I finally make the connection between resilience and happiness. Some of the key components of resilience — identifying and displaying your strengths, helping others, and solving problems — are also things that bring satisfaction and long-term happiness.

[podcast]http://www.projecthappiness.org/wp-content/uploads/brooksfourthinstallment.mp3[/podcast]

Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Parents and Teachers

After listening to the podcast, fill out our ‘Mentoring Resilience & Happiness’ questionnaire. And keep working on appreciating your gifts and appreciating children’s gifts. Compassion for yourself and the kids in your life can only make you and those around you happier and more resilient.

We All Have “Islands of Competence”: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 3

Swimming for Our Islands of Competence

Swimming for Our Islands of Competence

*******

In the third installment of our resilience podcast series, Dr. Brooks explains his powerful metaphor, islands of competence (see this article on his site for a powerful story about a parent applying islands of competence in her life). As a strength-based model of psychology was starting to emerge, Dr. Brooks began to think about helping parents and children in terms of leading them out of the “sea of self-perceived inadequacy” onto an “island of competence.”

Dr. Brooks’ Podcast on “Islands of Competence”

Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

After listening, ask yourself:

  • What are my islands of competence? How can I change what I’m doing at home/in the classroom to highlight these strengths?
  • What are my kids’/students’ islands of competence? How can I change what I’m doing at home/in the classroom to highlight these strengths?
  • Share your ideas and plans for finding your and your kids’/students’ islands of competence through the “comments” function below and we can all learn from each other

In Search of the Charismatic Adult: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 2

In this second installment of our podcast series on resilience, Dr. Brooks and I discuss the importance of the “charismatic adult” in a child’s life (a term coined by Dr. Julius Segal — see this article or check out his Amazon bibliography for more info): that adult who believes in and stands by a child through adversity. Dr. Brooks traces his career path as he began to ask, “Why do some children who grow up under poverty and racism, undergo trauma, or face some other kind of adversity do well while others don’t?” In other words, he was shaping the science of resilience.

Click HERE for podcast: brookssecondinstallment

Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

After listening to the podcast, take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  • Who was the charismatic adult in your life? A parent? A teacher? A family friend? Several adults?
  • Are you a charismatic adult for the children in your life? Do you say and do things that make children feel stronger or depleted?
  • Have you observed — like Dr. Brooks — kids who have undergone adversity yet remain happy and well? How can you help other children in your life develop those traits of resilience?

For more in-depth discussion of how to raise resilient children, check out this article on Dr. Brooks’ website!

Project Happiness’ Podcast Kick-Off

Welcome to our very first podcast. This series of podcasts will give parents and educators tips for leading a happier, healthier life. And we’re starting with Dr. Robert Brooks (see his website for an archive of helpful articles, info on speaking engagements, and lots of resources for parents and teachers), a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, a world-renowned expert in childhood resilience, a national and international lecturer, and respected author of some extremely helpful and hopeful books (which you should check out!). Here Dr. Brooks talks a bit about his definition of resilience and why it is available not only to those who have been through traumatic events, but to everyone.

[podcast]http://www.projecthappiness.org/wp-content/uploads/brooks-podcast-1.mp3[/podcast]

Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

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Why Linoleum is a Good Role Model for Kids Today: NOTE CHANGE IN WORKSHOP TIME TO FRIDAY A.M.

parentworkshopflyer4 To accomodate interested parents’ schedules, we have switched the workshop to FRIDAY MORNING. E-mail abby@projecthappiness.com and get signed up for a fun and innovative program!

Baby Feet on Linoleum

WHAT’S AHEAD: How are a resilient child and resilient flooring similar and how can Project Happiness help parents increase kids’ happiness and health? Here’s a blog about our upcoming parent workshop (See above) and advocating the ‘linoleum-ization’ of our children!

When I was a kid, linoleum must have experienced some giant technical breakthrough because I remember my mom and her friends talking about how good it looked and how resilient it was as they all remodeled their kitchens. Until coming to work for Project Happiness, that was my experience of resilience: really sturdy flooring.

But how quickly we all get used to the language of our surroundings! Because as we were designing our upcoming parent workshop I didn’t even question the use of ‘resilience’ to describe healthy, happy, kids who have the tools to overcome life’s obstacles. It took a few confused looks as we distributed the flyer to remind me that many parents might think we were advocating preparing kids for heavy foot traffic and frequent spills.

In some odd sense though, we are advocating the linoleum-ization of our children. Compare these 2 definitions of resilience from Dr. Brooks’ and Dr. Goldstein’s Raising Resilient Children site (check out their resilient parents quiz!) and the wiseGEEK flooring site respectively:

  • Resilience: “A quality…that facilitates the ability to overcome adversity.”
  • Resilience: “…designed to be durable, resistant to stains and water, and comfortable to stand and work on.”

Perhaps it’s the blizzard raging outside here in Maryland, but the 2 definitions of resilience here complement each other nicely:

  1. Resilience is a quality, something inherent in a person, but it’s a quality that the person has to design, to engineer, to create in herself. And we all want to help our children design that quality for themselves.
  2. Resilience facilitates getting through tough experiences, making one durable and resistant to the potential harm these experiences can bring (like big spots left over from spilled milk). But it doesn’t make someone bulletproof. And we don’t want that for our kids – we want experiences to get through to the inner core. Because that means the good experiences get in there, too.
  3. Resilience means the ability to overcome adversity while remaining comfortable to stand and work [on]. Okay, so this last one needs a tweak, removing the ‘on.’ Overcoming adversity is getting back to a comfortable standing and working state. To be resilient is to eventually get out of bed and go back to being comfortable in your day-to-day life after a devastating experience.

Resilience is a key component of both long-lasting happiness and long-lasting flooring and parents are in a unique position to be able to help their kids develop this quality.

If you’re interested in parent workshops on happiness, resilience, mindfulness, plasticity, either look into attending the upcoming workshop or download a brochure outlining how to bring Project Happiness into your school.

Throwing Kids A Lifeline

The timeless conundrum...

The timeless conundrum...

It probably comes as a huge surprise that someone with a Ph.D. in Slavic Linguistics was not the coolest kid back in high school. In fact, you will probably be amazed to hear that the secretary of the Latin Club (not even the president – it’s a geeky position inside a geeky organization!) was the butt of many of the popular kids’ jokes. My lack of self-awareness didn’t help: for instance, in order to find out how to be popular, I brought a notebook to a school dance and, following the scientific method, gathered data to find the ‘formula’ for popularity. My husband has pointed out, now many years later, that one of the observations I did not make was that…nobody else was taking notes!

Oddly, however, I was pretty happy in high school and, if asked, I would have described my social life as “pretty good.” On the whole, I was confident in my gifts and was connected to my friends (I won’t impugn any of them by calling them geeky, but they know who they are…you evil people who subjected me to endless hours of discussions of the relative worth of the various Dr. Who’s…). I was, to be sure, anxious about my academic performance and prone to overreacting, but I had a lifeline of friends, family, teachers and counselors. This lifeline helped me to weather the storm and maintain resilience through the cruelties of high school.

Bullying is a topic that has been overdone lately in the educational literature. And with SAMHSA’s (the federal government’s mental health branch) launch of their bullying prevention program, there are tons of resources out there for teachers, administrators and parents. But there was no Project Happiness approach, based on compassionate communication, finding your gifts, and self-nourishment…until NOW!

As I talk with more and more facilitators, one of the central needs emerging this year is parent trainings. Parents want to help their children – and bullying is just one of the more prominent examples – but they often don’t have the tools or the confidence to talk with their teens. In response to this need, Project Happiness has developed a number of parent trainings, including a special training on bullying complementing the SAMHSA program. Through experiential learning, we give parents a way to build a common language with their teens around social and emotional wellness.

Somehow, way back when, my parents instinctively spoke that language. They spoke to me without judging, were genuinely interested in my experiences, and nurtured the social relationships that were supporting me. Nonetheless, I was quite a difficult child and I was so socially out of place by the end of third grade that they had to make special arrangements to send me to school in another district. It was there that my parents and teachers nurtured my first set of healthy and supportive social connections. My little group of friends were not the class leaders or academic go-getters, but they taught me social management: how to show compassion, nurture collaboration, peacefully negotiate conflict, and make ethical group decisions. I lost touch with these friends (until now, thanks to the miracle of Facebook!), but they were the foundation of my resilience. And it was my parents who recognized and nurtured this connection.

If you’re interested in parent trainings for your school or program – either run by someone at your school or the Project Happiness team – please contact me and let me know. We want kids to have as many lifelines as possible: thrown by their teachers, their parents, their friends and, most importantly, themselves. Let us know how we can help bring some of these resources to your school or program.

Abby Konopasky, Ph.D.
Director of Education
Project Happiness
abby@projecthappiness.com
(650) 833-3882

Implementing Project Happiness: Paddling Downstream

(See the end of the post for important Handbook ordering info!)

September 21, 2009

By now almost everybody is back at school (including those people on the quarter system who like to make everyone else feel jealous in August and early September!) and in the thick of things. I am incredibly pleased to report that we have more than twenty schools using The Project Happiness Handbook so far and that there are even more getting ready to take the plunge. Meanwhile all of us on the Project Happiness team are gearing up and are excited to take the plunge right along with you!

As many of you know, however, our curriculum isn’t quite in yet… (I put that in a smaller font hoping it might get less notice!) Our Assistant Director, Rolando Sandor, has been hard at work for several months polishing the Handbook, from fixing typos to improving the layout to making it easier to reference different sections. The good news is that the Handbook is a lean, mean happiness machine! The bad news is that it will not arrive in our offices until some time later this week.

I have received e-mails from many of you and have talked to others, so I know that this is a bit of a setback. Moreover, it is difficult for me to dive in and help in the way that I want when you are not all up and running with a physical textbook. But, following the curriculum’s advice, I have decided to paddle downstream and try to go with the flow.

So as the school year gets started, here are some things I can do for you:

• Look at your objectives/goals for a class and make detailed suggestions about Project Happiness activities that might be the right fit.

• Help you brainstorm extension activities that work for your program.

• Provide you with excerpts from the first chapter to get you started.

Connect you with other like-minded facilitators for collaboration.

• Help you develop a fundraiser to raise money for the curriculum.

• Point you to resources on social and emotional learning, mindfulness and active listening.

• Even engage in geekiness around writing, language and Project Happiness as a fellow linguistics enthusiast!

And to facilitate my role facilitating the facilitators (!) I am establishing regular virtual office hours. From 1:00PT/4:00ET to 2:30PT/5:30ET on Mondays and Wednesdays, I will be available to talk. And, to make sure everyone gets to communicate with their favorite distance tool, there are three ways to connect with me:

• Via phone at (650) 833-3882 (I can call you back in the continental U.S. and Canada)

• Via Skype with the user name abbykonopasky

• Or via Google chat with the user name abby@projecthappiness

You can e-mail me ahead of time to let me know you’d like to talk or you can just go ahead and contact me. Also, if those times are inconvenient, just contact me and we can set up an appointment that works for both of us. I can’t wait to hear how things are going and how I can support your vision for Project Happiness.

Abby Konopasky
(650) 833-3882
abby@projecthappiness.com

Important info on Handbook preordering

An Invitation to Teachers: The Project Happiness connection

Catching up on some very important reading!

The new Director of Education catching up on some very important reading!

September 13, 2009

Hello to Current, Past, Prospective and Eternal Project Happiness Teachers:

I’m writing to introduce myself: my name is Abby Konopasky and I am Project Happiness’ new Director of Education. For those of you who have worked with Maria Lineger, she’s still on board, but we couldn’t keep her away from the hands-on, experiential work that is so critical to our program. I am fortunate to have her foundational work to build on and her guidance to do it.

Let me start by telling you a bit about my path to happiness, and Project Happiness in particular. I come from an academic family and I carried on the tradition by getting a Ph.D. in an obscure field: Slavic Linguistics. I taught Russian, then writing, then English, linguistics, pedagogy and ESL in my final academic position at the University of New Orleans. Then Hurricane Katrina not only wiped out my home, but my job and community as well. I was 8 months pregnant with my first child at the time and saw the obstacles to my happiness as insurmountable. My husband used the opportunity to change careers, starting law school at Stanford University the next academic year. I went with him as my daughter’s primary caretaker, unsure of precisely where I belonged: Mother? Educator? Researcher?

Without knowing it, I was completing a Project Happiness curriculum of a sort. I worked on self-awareness, identifying the things about my job and my parenting that brought me lasting happiness and developing self-confidence. I learned self-management and how to combat my Monkey Mind, particularly my feelings of depression. Through trial and error I developed a cadre of positive thoughts about myself and my future. I worked on social awareness and social management, finding joy in showing empathy and compassion to other mothers of young children at Stanford. We developed a loving and interdependent community, working together and negotiating our differences.

Nearly 4 years after the heartbreak of Katrina, I decided that I wanted to use my gifts to improve the lives of adolescents. That brought me to Project Happiness as a volunteer and, as they say, the rest is history!

It is not, then, the SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) research studies or the pilot program testimony that make me such a strong advocate for The Project Happiness Handbook. It is, rather, my own personal journey: the gifts of self-discovery are too precious and the risks of self-ignorance too great for us not to share these tools with our children.

And you will find that I am a strong advocate for the curriculum (perhaps too strong for some of you!). Adolescents need help finding the eye of the storm*, particularly in the face of obstacles like:

•Bullying:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/09/03/high.school.put.downs.study/index.html,

•Depression:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/saffo/detail??blogid=79&entry_id=46284,

• And even national anxiety over things like the swine flu: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/08/health/08well.html?hpw.

While Project Happiness is not a cure-all, it is a way to start the conversation, a way to give adolescents, parents, teachers and even the community a common vocabulary to open the lines of communication.

This year The Project Happiness Handbook is being used in many locations (across the U.S. and Canada and in Rome, India, Nigeria, Guatemala, Australia and Nepal) and in many contexts (performing arts, leadership, yoga and meditation, living skills, adult enrichment and teacher preparation, to name a few). But we would love to spread it even farther and broader. And we want to help existing programs explore the curriculum’s rich resources and build new ones.

To that end, I’m putting out a call for connection. How can our team help? I can help you navigate our large curriculum, make lesson plans, facilitate project-based learning, make your classroom a more mindful and nurturing place, and create opportunities for your students to reach out digitally and in person. E-mail or call me any time.

Also part of this call for connection is an invitation to reach out to other like-minded facilitators. What are you doing with The Project Happiness Handbook? What is working for you? What are you struggling with? Would you like to connect or collaborate with another class? I invite you to either respond to this blog post (go to migration, click on Blog, and then on What do you think?) or join our Google group for facilitators by e-mailing me at project-happiness-facilitators@googlegroups.com.

I look forward to meeting, speaking with, or e-mailing with all of you over the course of this exciting and challenging school year. I wish you luck guiding your students on their journeys and continuing your own journey. I am still in shock that I get to work with such extraordinary teachers on such a remarkable project. So bear with me as I get used to ‘directing’ the program – I will be looking to you and your students for the true direction.

Abby Konopasky
(650) 391-7012
abby@projecthappiness.com

*See page 26 in The Project Happiness Handbook. “The Eye of the Storm” is an activity that teaches students to find the calm center in the midst of struggle.