This is part seven of the seven-part series from the Project Happiness curriculum. Through each of the Seven Doors we have been on a journey to uncover the path to greater happiness. "Sharing Your Gift" is a foundation. I love this quote from John Templeton: "Happiness comes from giving, not getting . . . to get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy we must scatter it." Everyone is born with a gift. For both teachers and students, an important question to consider is, "What makes you unique -- what is the gift that you have to share?"
Finding Your Gift
It is not always easy to find your gift. At Authentic Happiness, Dr. Martin Seligman offers strength-finder questionnaires (Values in Action) for adults as well as students. I also heard the advice that came from Wisdom Elder Sobonfu Somé as she spoke to the students of Mount Madonna School. Her first suggestion for each student was to come up with a list of all the things that made them strong. Part B, and this is key, was: "Have the courage to stay true to who you are on the inside, to help your gifts emerge." Then she told a story. According to African wisdom, every person born into a family brings a special gift that the community needs. It is up to the elders to nurture that child's gift, and to encourage them to express it. The reason is that if a young person's gift is not brought forth, it becomes a poison, which prevents them from developing their full social potential in the community. Encouraging the expression of gifts and talents benefits everyone.
Sharing Your Gift
What's your piece of the puzzle? Just as important as identifying your gift is putting it to use to help others. Like pieces of a puzzle assembled into a complete picture, each person has a talent, or a way of being that makes him or her feel totally alive -- something that enriches the community when fully engaged. A fun classroom activity is having each student write his or her gift (funny, kind, athletic, musical, computer-savvy, a good listener, artistic, etc.) on a puzzle piece. When the puzzle is put together, you get a bird's eye view not only on how the students regard themselves, but how everyone can work together based on their talents and strengths.
The Journey to Happiness
Although everyone's path to happiness is different, there are often three stages.
- Most people start by asking others, "Is this the way?" When the answer lies in things we cannot control, such as another person's opinion or acquiring new gadgets, happiness proves to be fleeting.
- The next stage is the idea that "I need to look within myself to be happy." Practices like gratitude and mindfulness foster happiness and resilience that do not depend on external circumstances.
- Finally, the key to lasting happiness is moving from "me" to "we." People ask, "What can I do to support a vision where everyone thrives? How can I support your happiness?"
- You understand the difference between short-term and long-term happiness.
- You move from Auto-Pilot to Awareness.
- You transition from being ruled by your emotions to using them as guideposts and learning to reframe them in positive and empowering ways. Mindset is pivotal.
- You change from listening to your inner critic to becoming empathetic and compassionate toward yourself and then toward others.
- You awaken from following blindly to making considered choices that impact your happiness and the happiness of others.
- You move from the belief that others control your happiness to the knowledge that you have the tools (like mindfulness and gratitude) to access a happiness that comes from inside -- that no one can ever take away.
- You move from feeling isolated and alone to knowing that you are connected to a community.
- Emotions are contagious. You not only affect people around you all the time, but you also have the power to be a positive influence, to help others and to lead the change.
Whether it's about dealing with bullying or the idea of being in charge of your own happiness, invite students to look at what is important to them and what they stand for. If more people took the time to cultivate social and emotional skills, the effect would be not only rising test scores, but a more civil and inclusive society with the capacity for creativity, innovative thought, and working together for everyone's benefit.
The good news is that with the latest research in neuroscience, positive psychology and mindfulness, there are now free game-changing resources available as never before. In this increasingly stressed out environment, students deserve the happiness advantage.
Educators have the power to transform lives. Recently when sitting around a table, some friends and I were all talking about the people who had ignited our passions and fueled our dreams. Nine out of ten of those described were teachers! Thanks for going through the Seven Doors. If even one of the ideas presented resonates with your students, that difference can last a lifetime.
If you had to put a name to it, what is the gift, talent or special perspective that you have to share? How do you like to bring out the talents of your students?
Pencil photo via Shutterstock