I have the privilege of working with some amazing school employees—those who go above and beyond to make a positive difference in the lives of their students every day. However, I also sometimes see when the tireless dedication of school employees comes at the expense of their own health and happiness. All school employees require time for self-care to achieve balance, prevent burnout and preserve the unique abilities, skills and talents they have for enriching the lives of students.
While most of us know what we should do to care for ourselves (e.g. eating a good meal, getting a good night’s rest, exercising or cutting back on alcohol) a problem often arises in moving from the thought, “I should do that” to the action, “I will do that.” That’s where the power of positive psychology comes in. Positive psychology suggests that by simply changing our outlook, negative habits become easier to stop and positive habits are easier to start.
Success in Happiness
We often make the mistake of believing that happiness is a result of our success; that if we make more money, obtain a higher-ranking job or have 2.5 children, then (and only then) will we be happy. But in reality, we constantly redefine what it means to be successful, pushing any happiness that depends on our success entirely out of reach. Research now suggests that by focusing first on what makes us happy, only then can we learn to see problems as fixable, take joy in things that aren’t always pleasurable and achieve greater success in life.
One of the great things about positive psychology is that we already have the tools we need to improve our happiness and health. As outlined in the popular TED Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work, by Shawn Achor, positive psychologists recommend practicing the following five quick and simple strategies each day. Applying these strategies through a Comprehensive School Health approach is a sure-fire way to make you, your colleagues and entire school community happier and healthier. Let’s dig into them!
Did you know writing about that experience where the student or colleague held a door for you this morning could actually make you happier? Research shows that taking note of specific positive experiences through journaling increases happiness by helping your brain re-live the experience and recall details about why you felt happy in the first place.
Give it a try! Challenge staff to keep track of one good thing that happens each day for a week. Encourage them to write down as many details as possible and how it made them feel. Set a positive tone at upcoming staff meetings by sharing one of your positive experiences and inviting staff to share theirs. It may be helpful to give time at your next meeting to help staff get their first idea down.
2. Practice Gratitude
Did you hit a string of green lights driving into work or find a $10 bill that you forgot was in your desk? Expressing gratitude for simple things can lead to positive changes over time. Positive psychologists recommend taking note of three things that you are grateful for each day and writing them down whenever possible.
Give it a try! Grow gratitude throughout your school by designating a gratitude wall for staff and students to post notes about what they’re grateful for. Or, try asking staff to write something they are grateful for each day on a strip of paper. Then, collect and connect the paper strips to form a chain and watch the chain grow through the staffroom and into the school.
3. Be Mindful
Stop; breathe; live in the moment; be aware of your surroundings; acknowledge thoughts and feelings without judgment. However you do it, being mindful for just a few moments each day can make you happier and healthier.
Give it a try! Involve staff at your school by opening staff meetings with a deep breathing exercise or create a month of mindful activities and challenge staff to participate in 30 days of mindfulness.
4. Get Moving
Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines state that adults benefit from only 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week. At just over 21 minutes per day, most people achieve that through their daily routine. Remember that walking from the far end of the parking lot, supervising recess, going down the hall to chat with a colleague instead of calling and schoolyard maintenance can add up quickly. If you still need that extra boost, try for the “fun fifteen” and get active in a way that you enjoy for 15 minutes, such as gardening, pogo-sticking or extreme hopscotch.
Give it a try! Why not lead a walk to Antarctica…by counting your steps, that is! Organize a DREAM (drop everything and move) break, participate in classroom energizers with students or bring in a Zumba or yoga instructor after school at a nominal cost to staff.
5. Be Kind
You know that old cliché, it is better to give than to receive? Well, scientifically speaking, it’s true! Making others feel good makes us feel good too; and by making other people feel good, we train our brains to want to do even more kind things. That’s a pretty cool positive feedback loop! Kindness can be as simple as holding the door for someone, greeting a person with a smile or giving a hug to a friend in need.
Give it a try! Infuse kindness into the culture of your school through kindness campaigns, like posting positive sticky-note messages on lockers or mailboxes or starting a list of “staff favourites,” such as hot beverages, hobbies or pastimes so that others can complete more personal and meaningful acts of kindness.
Through regular and intentional practice, these five simple strategies can empower anyone to boost their happiness and health. As the motivational speaker, Brian Tracy, famously said, “good habits are hard to develop but easy to live with.” So, embrace the challenge of making positive psychology a habit for staff in your workplace and rest assured the results will be easy to live with. Have you already tried one of these strategies? If so, comment below to inspire fellow school employee wellness champions with even more ideas!