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Learning the lesson of “Happiness”

Ms Rio Cheung
Educational Psychologist, Education Bureau
 

         Starting from 23 September, face-to-face classes will be resumed by phase in all primary and secondary schools and kindergartens in the territory. Students are about to resume school life after a prolonged period of home learning. While this is what most of them are looking forward to, there may be some who feel somewhat stressed or perturbed and need more time and teachers’ assistance to adjust to the change.

 

         As such, the Education Bureau will organise 20 regional workshops for school personnel between 16 September and 4 November. Psychiatrists will be invited to share practical skills in providing emotional support for students, introducing approaches to counselling and therapeutic intervention, and discussing case studies, with a view to enhancing the capabilities of teachers and school personnel in supporting students so that they are less affected by negative emotions and stress, and can grow up happily.

 

         In children’s vocabulary about emotions, “happy” is one of the first words they learn because happiness is a basic emotional response typical of human beings. However, we often hear students and teenagers express being unhappy. It seems that happiness fades away as one grows up. Why is this so?

 

         There are many things in our lives that may make us happy, such as a hearty meal, an adorable gift bought for ourselves, and the fun of hanging out with friends. However, the happiness brought by an external change does not last because we tend to get used to it within a short span of time. To maintain the same level of happiness, we would look for something new or more exciting. In psychology, this phenomenon is called “hedonic adaptation”. Happiness derived from the above examples by students of course is just transient.

 

         Then how to help students stay happy? We should guide students to realise that happiness is a choice. It is not determined by the environment or something external. Besides, happiness can be learnt and fostered. It is not necessarily an inborn trait. Teachers may make reference to the following suggestions to help students understand and experience what is authentic happiness.

 

Lead by example and practise to be grateful

 

         Being grateful is a key to happiness and mental well-being. We need to nurture gratitude in students so that they know how to appreciate the people and things that come to their life and avoid taking everything for granted. Turning gratitude into actions, like giving thanks and showing appreciation to others will build positive interpersonal relationships. Being kind to others in turn increases one’s sense of happiness. Teachers can share with students the little things to be cherished in daily life, and encourage students to show gratitude and appreciation for others’ efforts and contributions. In this way, teachers can demonstrate what it is like being a grateful person.

 

Think positive and be realistic

 

         Unhappiness has much to do with negative thinking. When counselling students who think negatively, teachers should first listen to their worries, and then guide them to examine if their negative thoughts are realistic by using appropriate questions (e.g. “Is my thinking supported by evidence?”, “Are there any other possibilities?” and “Am I jumping to conclusions too soon?”). Students should be reminded to approach issues from a positive and reasonable perspective and reappraise the situation by looking at facts. With positive thinking, they will always be able to see the positive and meaningful side in the face of adversity, so that their emotions are not greatly affected.

 

Identify strengths and cultivate virtues

 

         Students who always feel unhappy merely set eyes on their own weaknesses and inadequacies. Teachers should help students explore and know their signature strengths, and encourage them to strive for achievement by putting in effort and overcoming challenges. They will then experience a fulfilling and long-lasting happiness. When students demonstrate their strengths or show good deed, teachers should give immediate positive feedback, which will help reinforce and consolidate their signature strengths and virtues.

 

         We believe that every student can embrace happiness. In the new school year, we hope that with the above suggestions, teachers can help students learn how to derive long-lasting happiness, the key to which is definitely a treasure for the lifetime.

 

13 September 2020