Formal Happiness Education? I Say YES!

What does it take to be truly happy and how do we get what it takes? As someone who guides people to have more happiness, fulfillment, and success, I know these are not new questions. In fact, they may be two of the oldest questions ever asked, and to those still seeking the answers, the quest may feel never-ending and unfulfilling.

The truth is there is a tried-and-true way to have deep, continual happiness. The problem is most people are practicing the trial-and-error method, using failed attempts and other experiences to mark their course. If they’re persistent and lucky, they figure it out – many in mid-life, when they double-down their efforts to “get it” or discover it before their time-on-planet Earth comes to a screeching halt.

What if we were taught how to be happy when we started being taught how to tie our shoes or say the alphabet, or for today’s young-uns, use a smart-phone or a tablet? What would life be like for young people who are equipped with the know-how to create ongoing happiness from their pre-teen years? Would you encourage your child to take such classes? Would you ensure such classes were available?

A recent article entitled “Positive education: Learning and teaching for well being and academic mastery,” by Matthew White and Margaret Kern, that was published in a 2018 issue of the International Journal of Well being, reports that teaching skills that lead to happiness also protects mental and emotional health in children, and helps to improve their social behaviors. It has a positive impact on how young people understand themselves, their relationships and their families.  

Consider that one of the most common factors affecting teens and young adults today is the stress related to their studies. Students today are adopting stress levels similar to adults during the school year. Issues depriving young people of happiness and wellbeing, including bullying, low self-esteem, self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs, anxiety disorder, and suicide, have risen to all-time highs. In the United States, teen stress rivals that of adults, and 1 in 10 teens goes through a depressive disorder by the time they reach adulthood. These and other statistics are a loud call for us to take more significant and pervasive measures to teach young people how to live a more positive life.

One of the great passions in my life is teaching life-mastery skills to young people. Interestingly, when I interact with them, I find they are aware they have issues to resolve, and they’re open to the learning, sometimes, far more than adults. Whether I’m talking to high school students or undergraduate and graduate college students, they seem to drink the wisdom in like it’s quenching a long-standing thirst. And that’s whether we’re discussing issues like navigating “playground” dynamics, interacting across cultures, improving self-esteem, understanding and embracing fear, or interpersonal exchanges like how to say “I’m sorry.” They try on the tips I give them right away, their lives change for the better, and they make permanent belief and behavior shifts that support their pursuit of happiness longer-term.

The independent survey by Harris Interactive Inc., on behalf of the American Psychological Association brings attention to the importance of helping teens learn healthy coping mechanisms for stress sooner rather than later.  I couldn’t agree more! In fact, I have taken my work with young people beyond workshops, and have been piloting a credit-bearing life-skills curriculum at the University of California, Irvine since 2015. The entry-level course is called Living 101: Being Happy and Whole©, and you can learn more about it here.

“I honestly took this class to better myself. Every time after class, I feel more refreshed, positive, and good about myself. I go home on the weekends and share what I have learned from this class with my sister because I feel like it’s something she would enjoy hearing and learning about. Thank you for teaching this course that helped me open up more and be true to myself.”

~ E. Heng, Behavioral Psychology, 2018 

My goal is to bring courses to current college students, as well as high school juniors and seniors. We’re exploring how to provide in-depth educational programs that help young people:

  • Develop self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love, and positive self-esteem;
  • Build resilience;
  • Manage insecurities, vulnerability and fear;
  • Reduce stress, anxiety, and guilt; and
  • Cope with criticism, peer pressure, socio-cultural pressure, and making mistakes.

If you agree that young people should be equipped with skills from courses that go beyond the traditional reading/writing/math/science education, I encourage you to be a vocal advocate for life-skills education at schools in your area. Ask for additions to the curriculum that teach subjects like mindfulness, compassionate communication, listening skills, self-esteem, collaboration, and HeartMath, that set up our next generations for long-term personal success and fulfillment, not just cognitive development.  In education as in life we need a more holistic approach that develops the heart as well as the brain.

“Sometimes, we know within that we need to change something in our lives to be happier but we’re scared to do it by ourselves. Living 101 would definitely be the strength to push you forward in order to face your fears.”

~ J. Almodovar, Psychology and Social Behavior, 2021

If you’d like to have my curriculum taught on a campus near you, please get in touch with me directly so we can discuss the opportunity.  Together we can increase the short and long-term happiness of our greatest resource – tomorrow’s generation of leaders.

Stay well and BE happy!


Valerie Sheppard is founder and CEO of The Heartly Center for Mindfulness and Self-Mastery. She gets rave reviews for her book, public speaking and coaching. You can learn more HERE.
Posted in Self-Mastery.

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