Tal Ben-Shahar (1970) is Professor of Positive Psychology at Harvard University. Of the initial eight students, he now teaches more than 1,500 students per semester, and his subject is the most popular in the university. Ben-Shahar is the star speaker of SM’s “One Hundred Flying” Education Congress, to be held online on April 14 and 15, where he will help teachers discover the importance of happiness in learning and how reach it.
“Ciento Volando” brings together educational experts who will talk about emotional well-being in the classroom, the challenges of the school of the future, educating in the digital age or learning to be a global citizen. It will also have a large number of teachers and principals who will share their enriching experiences in the classroom and in educational centers to achieve that “one hundred Flying” with their feet on the ground and their eyes on the horizon.
Today happiness is the great goal that we desperately seek. What is happiness?
There are many definitions of happiness. Helen Keller wrote: “The only definition of happiness is wholeness.” Inspired by Keller, he would define it as the experience of the integral well-being of the person through five elements: spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational and emotional well-being.
In his presentation next week at the SM “One Hundred Flying” Education Congress, he will talk about how to increase happiness in our daily lives. Can you learn to be happy?
Absolutely. The purpose of the science of happiness is ultimately to help individuals and communities increase levels of well-being.
How do you educate yourself in happiness? Can school prepare us from a young age to know what happiness is and how to achieve it?
Just as schools teach math, literature, and history, they should teach happiness, well-being, and resilience. Happiness is not only a good in itself, but it also contributes to better relationships, physical health, and even better grades.
What does emotional well-being contribute when facing new learning?
Positive emotions lead us to be more open and receptive. This is essential to absorb new learning. When we experience pleasant emotions we are more creative, we feel more motivated, we have better relationships and we are physically healthier. Schools must invest in the happiness of their students as an end in itself, and also as a means to better development.
What is the basis of good teaching?
The foundation of good teaching is being a role model. Students need teachers to exemplify learning, growth, and of course, caring and kindness. When teachers themselves learn and grow, students are more likely to do the same. When teachers show caring and kindness, students are likely to follow suit.
As a teacher, what techniques or activities do you teach your students?
I teach them the importance of expressing gratitude, keeping a journal, exercising regularly, and continually learning new things. I also emphasize the importance of accepting and embracing each and every emotion, both joy and sadness. Finally, and most importantly, I teach them that kindness and generosity are the key to making the world a happier and better place.
“Kindness and generosity are the key to making the world a happier and better place”
Last year the students had to follow the classes from home, thus losing the relationship and the game with their classmates. What does the collective contribute to learning?
Remote learning comes at a high price; however, since there is not much we can do about it, we must make the most of it. This means cultivating relationships as much as we can by having deep conversations. Swapping emojis is not the way to depth; debating a text for an hour, yes it is!
Our relationship with family and friends also happened through the screens. Do you think it will take an emotional toll on us?
Unfortunately yes. The key is not to give up deep relationships, even through technology.
The science of happiness says that relationships are the most important thing for a happy life. What do friends bring us?
Relationships are critical to true and lasting happiness. Too many people today prioritize work / money, and relationships take a backseat. Time with the people we care about and who care about us is critical to happiness. And the relationships must be real. A thousand friends on social networks do not replace the best friend. Face-to-face interactions, without the interference of technology, are important. And if we cannot meet face-to-face due to social distancing, then we must do everything we can to maintain deep relationships rather than falling into superficiality.
You speak of the concept of “beautiful enemy” when you speak of friendship. Do we need to have friends who tell us what we do wrong to improve?
People who care about us tell us what we need to hear, not necessarily what will make us feel good in that moment. This is how they help us grow. And, of course, we should do the same for those we care about.
Gratitude and gratitude is one of the steps on the way to that dream happiness. What do we get by giving thanks? Are we an ungrateful society?
To find happiness in our life, we need to appreciate what we already have; don’t take good things for granted. The potential for happiness is all around us: in our work, in our social and family ties, in ourselves. When we appreciate the good in our life, the good grows: we become happier and more successful. In our society, many of us take too many things for granted and sadly, when we don’t appreciate the good, the good depreciates and we have less.
“When we appreciate the good in our life, the good grows: we become happier and more successful”
Social networks, where we spend many hours a day, and more young people, show us a kind of perfect world. How does this constant happiness of others on social networks affect us?
One of the reasons for the rise in depression and anxiety today is that we assume that everyone else is having an amazing life all the time. That is what we learn about people through their social media. And we don’t want to appear abnormal, so we hide our sadness, anxiety, and fear. “How are you?”, They ask us, and we respond: “Oh, great, and you?”. Putting on the mask of happiness is ultimately counterproductive, for ourselves and for others. The great deception is leading to the great depression.
One in three Spaniards has recognized that they cried due to the pandemic, according to the Center for Sociological Research, and that figure rises to half when it comes to young people. How can we work on the negative emotions that the pandemic has brought such as fear, anxiety, uncertainty?
The first thing to do when the going gets tough is to give ourselves permission to be human, to embrace whatever emotion comes up, no matter how unpleasant or unwanted. Rather than reject painful feelings, be it fear or frustration, anxiety or anger, it is better to allow them to run their natural course. So how do we express our emotions instead of suppressing them? We can keep a journal, write about whatever we are feeling. We can also open up, talk, with people we trust. And of course, giving ourselves permission to be human may mean opening our floodgates and crying, rather than holding back tears. The paradox is that, to realize our potential for happiness, we must allow unhappiness.
In the age of perfectionism and immediacy there is no room for failure. What does failure bring us? Is failure the path to happiness?
Accepting and embracing failure is important for happiness, as well as for success. One of the mantras that I repeat to myself and to my students is “learn to fail or fail to learn.” Successful people, whether in the arts, business or sports, recognize that there is no other way to improve, to learn, that failure is the other side of success. Nobody likes to fail, but if we understand that it is part of the journey, then we are more willing to try, to take risks, to explore. As a result, we are more likely to be successful. I don’t believe in shortcuts, nor in five easy steps to success or happiness.
Do not miss his talk and those of the rest of educational experts in the Education Congress “One Hundred Flying”, of SM, next April 14 and 15. Sign up here.