Bringing Happiness to the Classroom (by Vladimira Chalyova)

What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful.

– Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

happiness newA real authentic smile of a student is worth every single minute you spend on giving them a reason for it.

It’s not always easy to have really happy and cheerful students and perhaps some could even think of it as just something extra, something that comes only after “filling their buckets with information”. However, I strongly believe that teaching students starts with helping them to be happy and comfortable with everything that happens in the classroom — at least.

Somehow, from the very beginning of my teaching career, I have always tried to start with a smile and  give my students reasons to smile. Nevertheless, it was this year sometime in April when I felt like it would be worth focusing more on happiness with my students and maybe even using it as the content of a lesson. It was the time after the big earthquake in Japan and even though we were not directly affected in Slovakia, I wanted to do something to help my students enjoy and be thankful for even simple little things that can make us happy and grateful. We talked a lot about their first impressions and ideas that come to their minds when thinking about what makes them happy. Later we focused on more abstract things and discussed the value of those. Along the way, I created a kind of lesson plan we used later.

What I learned while working with my students on “happiness” is that it can be a slow process but if we believe this is the generation to change the world, it is definitely time well spent. And of course they learn so much on the way. They learn not only new words to describe what they want to say but also ways to express their opinion, listen to the ideas of others, agree or disagree and also explain something really personal as well as how to be sensitive to and understanding about what others say. I feel this makes them not only happier but also better and more open people as well and that’s surely an important though often overlooked goal of education and an amazing way to make sure students experience learning to the fullest.

I later discussed the lesson plan with Chuck Sandy and we came up with more ideas to use in the classroom. Later on other teachers embraced the idea and found some potential in it as well and that makes me happy too. Chuck Sandy, Shelly Terrell and Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto took it even further by making it the centerpiece of their upcoming JALT 2011 presentation on the power of connection and collaboration. Chuck, Shelly, Barb and I have created The Happiness Project and are asking students and teachers from around the world to create a poster showing what makes them happy and post it on the site.  Already this is becoming a wonderful display of happiness which we hope to continue into the future with a huge collection of happiness – a place where happiness really resides and serves others as a source of happiness they can find in themselves.  We hope you and your students will join The Happiness Project, too. Visit the website, find out what happiness means for others and share yours.  That would make us very happy.

Note: This article by Vladimira Chalyova originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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8 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    You make me so HAPPY, Vladka! I feel lucky to be included in the project, and I look forward to watching happiness spread around the world from your idea. What a lovely way for us to show students how far an idea can spread with an online network 🙂

  2. Chuck Sandy says:

    You make me HAPPY as well Vladka and my students, too! That initial discussion we had about bringing happiness into the classroom led me to make some big changes in my own classes this semester as I consciously made happiness a goal of each class meeting. What better take away value could there be for a class really? I’ve been especially pleased when some students have come up to say things ilke “that was really fun” or “I can’t wait to finish this in the next class” as class ends. What I am doing differently is stepping back more to let students figure things out themselves while they work on projects and though to the naked eye it would appear I am teaching less, I actually think i am teaching more effectively by being available to respond to questions and teaching moments as they arise and always with a smile. 🙂

    That discussion also led me to hold a seminar a couple of months ago built around the theme of happiness and of course to work with you and Barb and Shelly to launch The Happiness Project. I hope it grows and expands really, well beyond JALT. Wouldn’t it be great to have some projects or teaching materials on the site as well which teachers (or students) could use to learn more about the people who’ve posted as they navigate through the site? That would make me happy!


  3. Vladka says:

    Dear Barb
    Let me thank you again and the happy feeling is mutual. It may be true that the initial idea came from me but you all developed it to something incredible and created a place for others to share their happiness. Somehow, I really think that it is important to remind our students (and kids especially) that the world is nice and happy place to live in. And your presentation on power of connection and collaboration just proves that we can inspire each other and spread positive things to the world.

    Thank you Chuck for your lovely comment! You know that the feeling of inspiration is mutual :-).

  4. Torn Halves says:

    Dear Vladka, you sound like a kick-ass teacher and your lessons sound impeccable. Let me pick up a tangential thread, though. You mention two things: making students happy and making the world a better place – and you mention them as if they go hand in hand. Some of us unhappy types who have been looking for justifications for being down in the mouth think otherwise. For the world to become a better place students need to become unhappy and perhaps a little bit angry with an alienating, brutal, exploitative and insanely unsustainable social reality.

    I’m going to head over to and create a page called iamangry (if some other reader of Malcom X hasn’t beaten me to it).

  5. “Happiness depends on ourselves.” Aristotle said. More than anybody else, he enshrines happiness as a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. As a result he devotes more space to the topic of happiness than any thinker prior to the modern era.
    Ever since I have learned this fact in my philosophy class at my uni. from an exceptionally passionate philosopher/ professor, I started asking this question:What is “happiness”?

    Surely happiness is to share the laughters in both good and bad times with my wild and tender kids/students, my biological amazingly sweet and bitter daughter, my unique and lovely partner, my crazy and loving family and all the exceptionally offbeat and beautiful friends.

    I deeply thank you for sharing this project because it definitely will change some lives radically because when you realize the purpose of your life, being happy, it will filled with laughters and lucks.

    Thank you again for sharing this inspiring story!!!

    Chiyuki Yanase

  6. COhan says:

    Just want to say my deep thank from Indonesia. If we do something with full of joys, we can accept it so much easier.

  7. Luciana says:

    Dear Vladka,
    I had already read about the Happiness Project and was amazed by it. It was even better to know how it was originated. Thanks for sharing your ideas.
    I totally agree that feeling comfortable and happy will make students more eager to learn, even if they are not interested in it, it will happen.
    Thanks again.

  1. November 12, 2011

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