It’s the final term of the school year. Not long now and it’s the summer holidays! We should be feeling happy. SATS are done, GCSE and A-level exams are underway, if you teach Year 11 or 13 you might be lucky enough to have some precious ‘gained time’, and all of the ‘fun’ summer term activities are about to start. Feeling excited? Ready to volunteer? Or exhausted and hoping no-one remembers you offered to _______________________ (fill in the blank as appropriate) back in September?
Spend time in any staffroom across the country this term and you’ll hear teachers reminiscing about the utopian mirage of ‘summer term past’. How great it used to be. How much time they used to have. How they were never this tired. I know I’ve certainly had those conversations. Why is that when on paper things actually look pretty good, we’re actually feeling so…flat? Why aren’t we happy? We’re at a point in the year when we’ve achieved so much, but we don’t seem to be buzzing with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The science of happiness
I’ve been playing around with ways to reframe my perspective on summer term for a while now. My most successful experiment comes courtesy of Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. If you’re not familiar with Achor’s ideas, he argues that “your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed”. Achor believes that if we bring more positivity into the present moment, we experience the “happiness advantage”. He cites his decade of research to prove that happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome as well as providing a myriad of health and quality of life improvements.
As part of his research, Achor did a 21 day happiness experiment with auditors at KPMG. Just prior to their busiest and most stressful time of the year, half of KPMG’s auditors were given a three-hour training session on positive psychology and how to apply the principles at work. They were then invited to create a positive habit for 21 days.
All employees were evaluated using a range of happiness measures three times – before the training, a week after the training, and four months after the training. For staff who had the training, every single measure of happiness improved, but most importantly, four months after the training, their life satisfaction scores (a measure of both personal and professional happiness) remained significantly higher in comparison to their original scores and in comparison with the control group.
Rewire your brain for happiness
Achor argues that happiness is a work ethic, not a mystery. If you train your brain to be positive, you’re more likely to be happy. This makes sense when you combine it with Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work on happiness. She has shown that when it comes to happiness, we aren’t at the mercy of genetics.
In the How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky explains that your happiness is 50% determined by genetics; 10-20% by life circumstances, such as age, gender, marital status or occupation; and the remainder is a product of how you think and act, or the attitudes and behaviours you choose. This means that although you have a certain innate disposition towards happiness, your behaviour or attitudes can either boost you to the top, or plummet you to the bottom, of your inbuilt happiness range. I think that’s exciting. It means there is a lot you can do about how happy you feel at work, about being a teacher or just about life in general.
The Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018 suggests that happiness for teachers is in rather short supply at the moment.
- 67% of education professionals describe themselves as stressed, this figure rises to 80% for school senior leaders
- 74% of education professionals consider the inability to switch off and relax to be the major contributing factor to negative work life balance
- 57% of all education professionals have considered leaving the sector over the past two years as a result of health pressures
- 72% of education professionals cite workload as the major reason for considering leaving their jobs.
Couple these findings with Gallup research showing that only 13% of the global workforce, and only 8% of the UK workforce, say they are engaged by their job, and the picture seems pretty bleak. But is it? If auditors can get happy and stay happy, surely we can too?
Habits of happiness
William James, one of the fathers of modern psychology, said it takes 21 days to create a habit. So I’ve been playing around with ways in which we can create happy teacher habits. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg shows how small changes, implemented over a 21 to 28 day period, create new neural pathways in the brain, which make it possible for you to replace your old routines, behaviours and thoughts with new ones.
Happiness for busy teachers
I’ve created a 21 day online programme so that you can finish the school year free of stress and armed with a new set of work habits to implement come September.
Happiness for busy teachers uses the latest findings from neuroscience and positive psychology to teach you how to form new habits, habits that serve you rather than holding you back from being happy at work. At the end of 21 days you’ll feel happier, more in control, more balanced and more able to face even the tough days at school.
Happiness is a skill, it’s not just a feeling, it’s a skill that we can cultivate through regular practice, and, as any with other skill, the more you practice the more natural it becomes and the more benefits you receive.
Curious? Click on the link to read more about Happiness for busy teachers. It starts on Sunday 30 June 2019 and it would be great to see you there.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”