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.
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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 comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

glxie63's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really like those ideas from the commentor above. Paper piles are my enemy.

Tony's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Paper piles are my enemy.

Krissy Kryder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

yes, the piles in the classroom and at home can weigh me down. I appreciate everyone's advice. Good Luck all!

Joshua's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have found that leaving the building at least once a day for 10-15 minutes adds a welcomed change of pace and some fresh air. Even if it is raining, stand under and awing or umbrella.. It may shorten your lunch period, or mean that you have to run to get back for your next class, but, if at all possible, it is important to just GET OUT!

I have also found that being a little bit "silly," even with my most unruly students puts a smile on both of our faces and serves to show that I am not always the bad guy, which makes my days easier in the long run.

I am a strong believer in having fauna in every space where you are confined for an extended period of time. I, personally, enjoy rainforest plants, but even some flowers in a vase can help lift you up. Purify your spirits and the air.

Doughtery's reccomendation on the "outer order to experience inner calm" is key. You may not always feel overwhealmed by cramped and unsightly spaces, but it is playing a part in overall stress and unease.

margaret 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A good friend told me this trick for having a good day ... when getting ready in the morning, consciously look at yourself in the mirror. Smile a big smile and say, " Today is going to be a good day. I am going to do my very best and my best will be good enough. I am going to enjoy my day."
This simple statement can help you begin each day with a positive mental attitude - and that can see you through quite a bit!
I love the idea of touching each piece of paper just once - now, to do it!

Robert Ruff's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The illusion that one can create a happy classroom is false. Happiness is an emotion coming from inside oneself. When I was a practicing social worker I worked with countless individuals struggling to be happy. We forget the real world is full of a mixed bag of joy and disappointment, it is how we manage our response to this challenge of highs and lows that determine happiness. Personally my relationship with a creator brings me happiness.

Malaika Costello-Dougherty's picture
Malaika Costello-Dougherty
Former senior editor at Edutopia.

Hi Joshua,

Thanks for your tips. We're starting a section of the magazine where we highlight design aspects of classrooms. I've noted your comment on plants, as well everyone's thoughts on piles. If anyone has photos of their solutions and wants to share, please send them to me at malaika.costello-dougherty (at) (We'll be looking at images to help shape the magazine page.)

One tip Gretchen shared that was more personal than professional, but that I've found helpful is: make your bed. It's nice to start the day creating order and this small effort can make a big difference.

I'm looking forward to more thoughts from you guys in the classroom.

My best,


Jane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our team has a meeting at least once a week where we discuss the kids we're concerned about. It got to the point where we were only discussing the problems we were having and none of the successes. We decided to end each meeting sharing those successes so at least we could leave on a happier note. It did wonders for our morale and made us more conscious of the positive things that the vast majority of the kids were doing, rather than focusing on the behavior problems of the few. We also started sending out "caught you being good" postcards to kids and their families.

Dave Kulch's picture

Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I'll certainly be subscribing to your site.

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