Cultivating Happiness in Today’s Students

Happiness is one of our country’s most illustrious pursuits. While one article, book, or podcast tells us how to find joy, another tells us how to keep it. Maybe this pursuit is partially why the U.S. was ranked the 15th happiest nation in the 11th Annual World Happiness Report.

However, despite this ranking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a more troubling story. Its 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that poor mental health and suicidal ideation are increasing among all groups of American students.

Thankfully, data from this same study presents us with a solution: creating healthy school environments, policies, and programs dedicated to fostering student growth.

A movement of self-proclaimed “happiness-oriented” parents are trying to ensure this message is heard loud and clear. Their goal? To mainstream suggestions from leading organizations and intergovernmental agencies—like the CDC and United Nations—to better ensure that children remain “happy and comfortable.”

For these parents, this means taking the emphasis off academic rigor and prioritizing school programs with welcoming environments that are committed to social emotional learning, diversity and inclusion, and students’ personalized learning needs. By fostering an environment focused on acceptance and support rather than perfection, many students are leading happier, more productive lives.

So, what are some tips and tricks that educators, parents, school leaders, and students can all incorporate into their daily lives to cultivate happiness within themselves and their communities? Here are three:

Commit to Random Acts of Kindness

Practicing simple acts of kindness is essential to cultivating happiness. A CNN report indicates that despite the myriad of challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, generosity between people—particularly strangers—rose by 25%. Random displays of kindness helped build positive emotions and feelings of social support remain twice as high as negative emotions and feelings of loneliness. Incorporating acts of kindness into daily life helps people of all ages focus on positivity and reframes a potentially negative situation or circumstance into a positive one.

Invest in Valuable Relationships

In an interview with CNBC, Dr. Gladys McGarey, a 102-year-old author, says that finding one’s “community” and those who support us serves as a “living medicine,” which is crucial for one’s happiness. These relationships include a mix of family, friends, and colleagues who show a mutual care and appreciation for our well-being. Further, the practice of social fitness, or reflecting on our relationships and determining how to fix imbalances within them, is crucial to maintaining a healthy, strong support network.

Find a Sense of Purpose 

Research has shown that a sense of purpose is “inescapably interwoven with happiness, fulfillment, and maximum productivity.” Though this may seem daunting, discovering purpose is as simple as finding the activities that spark joy like maintaining a hobby or volunteering.

Participating in student clubs and extracurricular activities can help students of all ages find their sense of purpose and belonging. Purpose is not always your life’s calling – it’s something that makes life worth living.

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