Student stress, bullying and depression are some of the most critical issues facing our schools and communities today. In the past five years alone the rate of depression has doubled among youth aged seven to 17. Likewise, 77 percent of students report having been bullied mentally, verbally or physically in school. Most everybody knows someone who has had to deal with repercussions of this.
At the same time, research tells us that happier people are healthier, live longer, are more caring, and are more engaged in all that life has to offer.
It is critical that we find practical ways to cultivate awareness of inner strengths, increase our empathy, and find a connection to what gives a sense of purpose and meaning in life. This is what motivated me to create Project Happiness, a documentary film that addresses humanity's elusive relationship with happiness, and also some curricula that I hope will bring these tools to teachers, parents and students.
The Birth of Project Happiness
The project started in a personal way. Sitting across the kitchen table, my teenage daughter said, "Mom, I'm stressed out...I want to be happy, but I don't know how." After speaking with the experts, I was shocked to discover that this issue is prevalent -- not only in my area, but also nationally, even internationally. Apparently, the World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability, calculated for all ages worldwide. I felt compelled to do something, and with a background in film, decided to start there.
Students from three countries were selected to take part in the film to explore the nature of lasting happiness. From the alleys of Nigeria and the beaches of Santa Cruz to the mountains of India, a group of teens embarked on a yearlong journey. Along the way they interviewed George Lucas, Richard Gere, neuroscientist Richard Davidson and finally had a conversation with the Dalai Lama. In the quest for a happier and more meaningful life, the Project Happiness film offers insights to people of all ages, and I am grateful to say that it is touching a chord in communities around the world!
Introduction to the Curriculum
I also wanted to produce curriculum that could be used at home and in classrooms to help kids build a stronger understanding of themselves and happiness. Combining the wisdom of the young people in the film with world-class thought leaders in positive psychology, neuroscience and mindfulness, the book is a synthesis of best practices in all these areas. The "7 Doors to Happiness" course is the online portion of the curriculum which we will be exploring in a blog series here at Edutopia.
Over the next seven months, we'll open each of the doors listed below, introducing about four key concepts per door and tools to expand our awareness of happiness. Each door offers simple ways to connect with and amplify happiness in day-to-day life.
- Door 1: Happiness
- Door 2: Obstacles to Happiness
- Door 3: Self-Reflection
- Door 4: Self-Mastery
- Door 5: Compassion in Action
- Door 6: Interdependence
- Door 7: Sharing Your Gifts
Happiness is a life skill that can be taught and learned because we have everything we need inside of ourselves. Through this "7 Doors" series, you will hopefully gain new perspectives to plug into your life, school, students and/or family. Happiness is contagious -- there is great power in learning how to amplify the positive in us all.
What practices are you using to access your happiness?