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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teach Yourself How to Be Happier

Writer Gretchen Rubin shares tips from her Happiness Project.
Malaika Costello-Dougherty
Former senior editor at Edutopia.

A couple of years ago, Gretchen Rubin dedicated herself to taking daily concrete steps to improve her life. Her process resulted in the book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, which comes out at the end of this year. Rubin's blog also sparked a growing movement of people striving for happiness through practical daily activities.

"The idea of happiness is so big it brings all sorts of questions," Rubin says. "Happiness doesn't have to be a golden land of promise. The real question is 'Can I be happier?' Yes. If you clean your classroom, you'll be happier."

Rubin's perspective is backed up by research showing that, though every individual may have a predetermined set point of happiness, there's significant room to become happier. It's estimated that about 50 percent of emotional health is determined genetically and another 10-20 percent is controlled by life circumstances such as age, gender, and occupation. These figures leave 30-40 percent of the happiness equation determined by how a person thinks and acts.

Here are Rubin's suggestions on how to be happier at work:

  • Find a friend: The studies agree that relationships are key to happiness. Making a friend at work can boost your job satisfaction. Build relationships with the people you work with, and you'll be happier.
  • Exert control over your time: A major cause of unhappiness at work is when your time is being wasted. First, look at your time and identify problem areas. Has the weekly staff meeting outlived its purpose? Perhaps some items could be handled over email or the meeting could be biweekly. Once you have identified the problem, exert control over the situation to make sure your time is well spent.
  • Grow professionally: Learning something new can make you happier. Expanding your skill set can energize your instruction. Want to learn a new teaching technique? Once you push through the initial stages of feeling uninformed, it will be more than worth it.
  • Create outer order to experience inner calm: Rubin says that when she goes into classrooms, she often sees piles of stuff that hasn't been used in years. "These things that pile up in unused corners weigh you down," Rubin says. "If you deal with one little pile or corner a week, you'll feel freer and everything will be more open."

More Resources

Want more tips like these? Rubin sends out a newsletter that highlights the best material from her blog. She's also created an online toolbox to help you start your own happiness project.

Weigh in! What kinds of things do you do to make yourself happier at school?

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Ann Hyde's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are a few things I do to make my classroom a happier place:

* I deal with each piece of paper ONCE -- and then address the issue, file it, or discard it. No paper piles = less stress

* I go into the halls between classes and try to greet students by name

* When I have to call home about a disruptive student, I make two other calls about students who are doing something nice for others. It helps me catch kids being good. Parents love it, and the students try a little harder to be kind to each other.

* Once a week, I write a thank you note to a colleague.

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