THE ALPHABET OF HAPPINESS: THE LETTER ‘I’

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-alphabet-letter-i-girl-image6052228Originally published in the Huffington Post – July 11, 2013

No matter what obstacles appear, happiness, in one form or another, can always be accessed, from the inside. The good news is that the more we train our brains to recognize happiness triggers, the more we become attuned to the good feelings they evoke. Today, let’s look through the alphabet to the letter “I”, to focus on intuition, intention and one of my personal favorites, inspiration.

Intuition
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. — Steve Jobs

We all have it. Intuition comes

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The Alphabet of Happiness: The Letter ‘H’

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-alphabet-letter-h-girl-image897012Originally published in the Huffington Post – July 1, 2013

Even throughout the busy pace of everyday life, happiness is always close at hand. Rather than pursuing it, consider focusing in one place… inside. The good news is that by placing our attention on inner happiness, we train our brain to experience more of it. This week, let’s explore the letter “H” – Hope, Honesty and Health.

Hope:
I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe. – The Dalai Lama

Hope is like a time machine that moves you from one place to another, from one state to something better, from the way it is to the way it can be. Hope is

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Empathy

taran-empathyThis year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this post, we will explore Empathy.

Why is it important to “walk in someone else’s shoes?” According to a study by the Brookings Institution, “Higher curriculum standards don’t correlate to higher student achievement; empathy does.” Empathy is also gaining attention as

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Ninja Mastery or Emotional Management

taran-emotional-ninjaThis year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this post, we will explore Ninja Mastery, a.k.a. learning emotional management.

What if your kids could learn that managing their emotions gives them a real advantage in school, in relationships and in life in general? Like ninja masters, they can train themselves to harness their inner resources and redirect their energy to successfully deal with the challenges that come their way. In this article we’ll explore some approaches that can help.

When Emotions Take Over
Most people would agree that emotions are a tricky thing. On one hand, they are guideposts to let us know how we are feeling. They direct our attention, and we rely on them to help us make good decisions. When emotions are in gear,

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: The Power of Perspective

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-looking-down-smiling-boy-image25368141This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this post, we’ll explore perspective. Perspective is defined as our individual way of looking at things, events and people. Do your students see a rainy day as gloomy or as a chance to play in the puddles? When they see a glass, is it half empty or half full? How we frame the circumstances in our life has a great deal to do with the happiness we derive from them. According to Shawn Anchor, “90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Passion and Strengths

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-happy-boy-playing-acoustic-guitar-image28485351This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this blog, we’ll explore passions and strengths.

Inherent Strength
While the role of education is to give students a broad and foundational knowledge over a wide range of subjects, it is equally important for young people to be aware of and develop their unique strengths. This came to my attention in a personal way when my own daughter was being bullied. As each day became more and more challenging, I went to speak with the school. Even with all best intentions, very little changed. How could my daughter weather the storm when she was being demeaned daily? One thing that worked was helping her become aware of her own strengths and then building on them. It made an enormous difference for her and is a powerful tool that every student should have.

One definition of strength from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a strong attribute or inherent asset.” Students who know

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: The Power of Appreciation

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-happy-children-thankyou-kids-letter-blocks-image19878697This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this article, we’ll explore appreciation, which is a pillar of happiness and one of the fastest ways to shift a student’s mood and perspective. The definition of appreciation is “gratitude; thankful recognition.” Developing gratitude helps students to focus on what is working in their lives, and also to train their minds to notice the good things that are all around. Learning to appreciate even the little things in life, such as a sunny day, a smile or a good meal, improves one’s outlook substantially, and helps to develop a more optimistic and resilient attitude. What we focus on is what grows — and gratitude promotes positivity.

Accentuate the Positive
Cultivating gratitude, which leads to positivity, is important in that it has a direct relationship to learning. According to Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage, “The brain at positive is

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Activities to Build Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-basic-lessons-happiness-image12635837This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

Happiness is something we all want, and new research shows that happiness and well-being can be taught! But who has time to teach happiness when there is so much else to cram into a school day? At the university level, we see courses at Harvard and University of Southern California on the Science of Happiness. There are good reasons why those courses are among these schools’ most popular classes. Happier people tend to be healthier, more productive, more generous and kinder to others. They also learn more easily and enjoy life. Who doesn’t want some of that?

On the flipside, bullying is an issue that many deal with, and both anxiety and depression are rapidly on the rise. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second greatest cause of human suffering cross all ages.

The good news: happiness skills are not hard to learn. It just takes time and practice. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson compares learning happiness to

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Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act

tim-ryanCongressman Tim Ryan has been a force for the support of mindfulness in our military and schools and now he is expanding that support with the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act. The act, co-sponsored by Congressman Dave Loebsack, Congressman Tom Petri and Congressman Matt Cartwright, amends the Elementary Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow funding for teacher and principal training and professional development to be used for social and emotional learning programming.

“I have already seen what teaching social and emotional learning skills can do for a student and their classroom,” said Congressman Ryan. “Teaching social and emotional learning skills is based on

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Teacher Appreciation Day!

942688_10151413297208931_519745608_n“If there’s one thing we cannot say enough to our nation’s educators, it is THANK YOU.” – President Barack Obama

Today, May 7, 2013, is Teacher Appreciation Day. At Project Happiness, we are so grateful to all of the teachers that work with Project Happiness! They are the backbone of all of our programs and they teach us so much about how we can improve the work that we do. Without our teachers, it would not be possible to have the global impact we have. Day in and day out, from Nigeria to California, the work done by our partners in teaching shines and the enthusiasm shown by all of you motivates and inspires the students you work with.

We are proud to work with so many teachers and hope they know how grateful we are for their including us in the work that they do. Thanks to all of you and Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

7 DOORS: ONE STUDENT’S JOURNEY TO HAPPINESS – DOOR SEVEN

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.

Yes! The final door. The last step. The big reveal on the 7 Doors to Happiness journey. I must confess, I was very excited to see Door 7. They say you always leave the best for last, right? So I dug into Door 7 to see what awaited at the end of the program.

Door 7 reminded me up-front that happiness is not something to chase, but

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Randy Taran Featured on Microsoft’s Daily Edventures with Anthony Salcito

This week, Project Happiness founder Randy Taran sat down with Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector Education to discuss her work with Project Happiness. The video is part of Anthony’s Daily Edventures, a 365-day look at heroes in education. To learn more about Microsoft’s Daily Edventures, visit www.DailyEdventures.com

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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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 http://saklan.org.

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 – www.caisca.org/uploads/file/FacNewsSpr2012.pdf

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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Australia’s Social and Emotional Learning Advocate

An update on happychild.com.au’s Yvette Vignando: she managed to secure herself a visit with the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, during which she made her case for more Project-Happiness-type social and emotional learning in Australia’s schools. Go to http://ow.ly/1A292 to hear an interview about her visit with the prime minister on ABC Newcastle. We at Project Happiness are so grateful for her tireless work on behalf of Australia’s students — go, Yvette!

Happier Kids in Australia - Coming Soon!

Happier Kids in Australia - Coming Soon!

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.

Appreciating as an Action

elliewithhandbook

TRUE APPRECIATION: CELEBRATING THE NEW HANDBOOK'S ARRIVAL!

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ellieandrowithhandbooks

So, no surprise that on Thanksgiving, as on any other day, I was caught up in the language of the occasion. In particular, I began wondering about the name of the holiday itself, Thanksgiving. Even someone without a degree in linguistics could tell you that it comes from giving thanks.[1] But the general public might not know how much complex appreciative action is hidden inside this humble noun (in addition the action of removing toddler-sized cranberry sauce prints from your sweater, of course…):

First, there is the action of giving, giving thanks. And hidden in there somewhere is someone or something that you’re giving that thanks to – perhaps your parents, your friends, your partner, your religious institution, or maybe the universe. Either way, there is a hidden recipient in there that bears pondering.

Second, there is the action of thanking. And, again, there is a missing recipient – thanking someone or something. Further, there is a hidden cause for thanks in there: you are thanking someone for something – health, friends, family, laughter, etc., etc. As I hope many Project Happiness students are learning this year, engaging in the action of thanking – appreciating – actually changes your brain, turning it towards the positive. So this action isn’t really new for Project Happiness fans.

Finally, there are, oddly, some historical connections of the word thank to the actions of thinking and feeling. These may seem far removed from thanking, but they are all what some linguists refer to as mental processes: things that go on inside your head (or heart!). These same linguists often chunk mental actions up even further into the actions of perceiving, thinking and feeling. I would argue that thanking involves all 3 of these. To thank we must first practice mindfulness so that we can perceive the things around us we appreciate. Then we need to grapple with understanding these things using our intellect and, finally, we must hold them in our hearts to experience the feeling of thankfulness.

All in all, then, the noun thanksgiving is action-packed. This week, as you pursue your own mindfulness practice and encourage the mindfulness practices of your students, children, friends and colleagues, think about some of the actions hidden in the nouns in your lives[2]:

School –> to school

Whom? In what?

Food –> to feed

What part of yourself? With what?

Friend –> to friend/to befriend

Whom? How?

Work –> to work

With what materials? By what methods?

Class –> to classify

Whom? By what standards?

Homework –> to work at home

On what? To what end?

So here’s my challenge: verbify the positive things in your world. Take just 5 minutes out of class, a busy work week, or a homework session with your kids. Ask your students/colleagues/kids to name some of the most important things in their lives – the things they value. Then work together for a couple minutes working out some of the actions behind those things, using the columns above as a starting point. Share some of those verbified values as comments on the blog and perhaps together we can come up with a grammar of appreciation.

Giving thanks for all the amazing people in my life who have given me the occasion to create a grammar of gratefulness,

Abby


[1] For those of you desperate to learn more, more, more about word structure, here are some other fun facts about the word Thanksgiving:

  • Giving is a present participle (or a gerund…it depends…)
  • Participles come from verbs but they, themselves, are officially nouns
  • The verb to give takes 2 objects: the thing given and the person who’s receiving
  • The second object of give (the receiver) is missing in Thanksgiving
  • Thanks is itself derived originally from a verb, to thank
  • To thank originally comes from a waaaay old form, tong (this form is Proto-Indo European if you really want to impress people at parties)
  • Tong originally meant to think or to feel, not to thank

Okay, I could give you a lot more linguistic tidbits, but if I did that, there wouldn’t be anything else for linguists to do!

[2] For you grammar mavens out there: these are NOT all legitimate etymologies – just
fun with language!

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