The Conscious Classroom

Happiness Is a Subversive Pursuit

July 15, 2021 Episode 41
The Conscious Classroom
Happiness Is a Subversive Pursuit
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Amy Edelstein talks about why pursuing happiness is not selfish. She looks at what happiness is, why caring about our own happiness and the happiness of others is foundational to creating a positive learning environment, and how to shift students' orientation so they care about the well being of the classroom community. In this session, Amy leads a long guided Love & Kindness mindfulness practice on caring for the whole. 

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Pursuing Happiness Is a Subversive Act

Hello, welcome to The Conscious Classroom. My name is Amy Edelstein. In the episode today, we're going to speak about  happiness: what it is, why it's important, and why happiness is not a trivial pursuit, why we want to pursue cultivating happiness in ourselves, and why we want to pursue it in our classrooms, supporting our students to experience that happiness. 


As we go through the episode today and start unpacking this, I'm going to share with you some insights about happiness, which I believe are incredibly important. During our times right now, and especially as there's a huge movement to uplift and transform our culture, I see pursuing happiness in the way that I define happiness as a subversive act, as an act of intention transformation,


and rebellion against a set of attitudes, practices, and biases in our culture that not only limit the depth of happiness that we can attain, but create enormous amounts of suffering for so many.


In the American Constitution, democratic government was founded- as imperfect as it was- in order to provide for what they called  inalienable rights of life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So without getting into all the issues of the day in the 1700s  in America and the biases of those who founded and wrote the Constitution -of which there are many- I want to focus just on the fact that the pursuit of happiness was included. And what's meant by happiness is not that light hearted, effervescent quality of being on the beach with a fruit drink in your hand, and the waves lapping at the shore,


although that certainly brings ease and happiness in many situations.  The happiness in the way that our founders spoke about it in the way that I am thinking about it and define it has to do with our moral compass. It has to do with pursuing that which deeply is in alignment with our highest values and capacities and potentials in our human lives.


Happiness is the foundation for a fulfilled and fulfilling in life. As we found out the pandemic, those who experienced more stress personally, in a family or in a society have poorer health outcomes, right? Those who experienced a greater degree of security, stability, and wellbeing have better health outcomes when presented with threats, like a virus. Happiness is correlated with all kinds of positive qualities in the education world. With deeper listening skills, with resilience, with compassion, with empathy, with interest. When we're happy we have room for ourselves. We have room for others. Yeah. Thinking about your students and why you need to bring those qualities of happiness into the classroom you realize we first need to embody and express those values ourselves. Often in The Conscious Classroom Podcast I end up speaking a lot about our role as teachers, because we model for our students.


  If you take a moment. And just look a little bit more deeply you may find some culturally absorbed ideas that pursuing happiness is superficial. It's selfish, it's blind to other's suffering. It's trivial.


And certainly the way that happiness is sold in our advertising,  feeds those ideas that happiness is seen as having what we want, getting what we want, being recognized. It comes from the outside. We're taught in our culture that if we get the thing that we need, which is usually what they're selling, or if we look the way that culture is telling us to look, which often has to do something they're selling, we will then be happy.


 If we find the right partner, if we buy the right house, if we drive the right car, if we take the right medication, if we plan the right retirement if we feed our dog the right food,  if we clean with the right cleaning. liquid, then we will be happy.


When we look at happiness, we can see  the way that our marketing has gone, it's designed to sell to us. But real happiness is not about attaining or getting something from the outside to complete us in order to experience that sense of wellbeing. 


Happiness has to do with aligning with our deeper values.


What we really care about what we think is important. The qualities of our relationships, the human connection, being in harmony with the natural world is what brings more meaningful happiness.


When we see happiness is alignment  with values that transcend the moment, that are more long lasting, that reach higher, that are filled with optimism about what's possible for the human family, then we start to see happiness is something that goes directly against that material message from the marketing, the media, and just the way that our culture has grown.


We're trained to want more and more and more. We're trained that our happiness lies in what we get and get and get. But if we're seeing happiness as the fullness of heart, as the alignment with what we care about, what makes us human, that ineffable fullness, then we can see that it's not what we're going to attain from the outside, but it's what we're going to experience from the inside.


Even when we're , deeply in love or in a close friendship or relationship or familial constellation, where we feel that sense of security and support and stability and affection and alignment, those qualities come in the presence of others, but they're really qualities within ourselves. 


If we look deeply, we see that our hearts are open.


We see that we fall into the softer, gentler, stronger side of ourselves. We see that we act in ways that we're proud of, that lead to positive momentum.


So you can see that it directly goes against so much of the message in our culture. And that's why I say pursuing happiness in this way is a subversive act. Because we're going against the messages that want to manipulate us for somebody else's ends. And they're not very deep ends. They're small ends.


There are ends that have to do with producing and commodifying and doing rather than being.


And when it comes to our classroom, there are ways to bring the art of pursuing happiness into the classroom and how you design your room, how you set up the chair. And particularly in mindful awareness practices, getting students to notice, happy moments,  getting students to notice a sense of wellbeing, getting to the students to notice new colors in the room, getting students to comment on positivity, getting students to support each other and feel a sense  of not just competition with each other, but competition as a whole to keep bettering and bettering everyone's attainment or grades. So usually we put up on the bulletin board only the only the individuals at the top, but if we're looking at our class overall, maybe we want to see cumulative scores and say, okay, let's move the needle on the whole class.


Let's let the class excell  in cumulative grade point average in performance on tests. How can we move the whole class up? Let's celebrate that win. 


So if we're working as a whole class, then one person's success moves the needle for everyone. So everybody has to root for everyone else because that win is everyone's goal.


Love and kindness practices help bring a sense of ease and happiness and affection into the classroom. They help students focus on their own fullness and well-being and connectedness. They help students let go of negativity and fights and grievances and grudges. Talking circles help as well.


Restorative justice circles help.


So let's take a few moments and do a mindfulness practice focused on happiness, that you can use with your students.


So let's start by taking our best mindfulness posture, feet flat on the floor, spine rising, tall, feeling your spine, growing up and out of your hips. Do you feel it reaching as if it were reaching towards the sun? Like a willow? Stretching and growing and filled with water and energy and nutrients.


Take a deep breath in and a long exhale.


Take another deep breath in and a long exhale like a gentle breeze flowing out of your body.


And take another deep breath in, imagining that you could breathe in the warmth of the sun,


the nutrients of the sun, and then breathe out that gentle summer breeze.


Now bring to mind everyone in the class,


those students, you know well, those students, you don't know so well, those ones you feel close to the ones you don't feel so close to, the ones you admire. The ones you don't understand, even the ones you feel a little jealous of, or a little competitive with.


 Bring everyone to mind.


And as you hold them all in your mind's eye, notice how everyone shares the same classroom, same books, same teacher. Same school building. Same Principal


okay. Take another deep breath in and a breath out. And as you breathe out, send this wish to everybody in the class, including yourself, because you're a part of the class. 


May we all be successful. May our class do brilliantly this year.


May we all grow and get better grades than we ever imagined.


And maybe we all have a huge amount of fun as we break all of our limitations and boundaries.


 Send them that wish in any words that you want.


  May we all be successful. May we all get excellent grades. May we we all learn  new things.  May we all make each other laugh.


May we we all challenge each other to do our best. And may we all find that our best is better than we thought.


And now take a deep breath in and a relaxed breath out.


 And a deep breath in. And a relaxed breath out.


 And one more deep breath in and a relaxed breath out.


 Think of everybody in your class, picture  them in your mind's eye, at the end of the year with the whole class doing well. Picture how you helped each other. When you didn't understand how you got help when you were struggling. How you helped somebody else with something that seems simple to you, but was hard for them. How the whole class as a whole did better than anyone expected.


And now think of how lucky you are to share this class with all these other students.


Now send yourself an extra little bit of happiness.


May I find my place together in the class with everyone. May I help others. May I be helped.  May this be my happiest year of school so far.


Then take another deep breath in and a deep breath out. And a deep breath in and a deep breath out. 


And when you're ready, you can look around, look out the window, notice the objects in the room around you, and we can finish this mindfulness exercise and get ready for our next learning.


Wonderful. So you can see how we can fill our classroom with a sense of comradery, a sense of identification with the whole, instill those  values.  Teaching students how to care for each other, how  to be cared for. How to associate that care with happiness, not with struggle. And how simply wishing that for the class and helping students wish that for each other brings all those elements to mind for us as educators.


So when we're focused on happiness, creating more happiness, inspiring, our students to support each other and identify with everyone's wellbeing, we start to experience those same things ourselves. So it lifts us up and out of the pressure and the crankiness that often sets in in the classroom. 


It's so  hard to teach. The schedule is so hard, there's so many issues. There's so many demands, so many metrics. So when we focus on the bigger picture and the wellbeing of the whole class ,  as I said, that happiness, pursuing happiness is this subversive act. we go against the methods and practices that want to divide up our students and pit one against the other.


Of course, we're going to notice who's succeeding and who's failing. Of course, we're going to define our success by some of those metrics. At the same time, wishing for everyone's happiness, helping to create that air of camaraderie, of collective wellbeing, goes directly against those systems and formats that see us as isolated individuals, not as a system, a living organism as a whole.


 When classes do well, generally everyone shines. And when students fall through the cracks in a class that is doing well, there are usually other issues that need to be tended to.


Classes that support each other  are happy. We'll see better achievement. In classes where students feel isolated alone, pitted against one another, always in competition, will not realize their highest potential in the healthiest way. There will be some students who are addicted to pressure and stress. Maybe from their families, maybe from their own identities, but those students who are addicted to pressure will experience, later on in life, the impact of living under chronic stress.


We want to teach students how to excell through happiness, how to personally,  exceed their limit, reach their goals or stretch beyond their goals, by caring for everyone's well-being. That's going to give them the reserves, the happiness, the self-confidence, and the wellbeing to attain more than what they thought they might be able to.


So I urge you and challenge you to focus on the wellbeing of the whole. The happiness of the whole. To think about how you've  set up your classroom for  this fall, how you can add mindfulness activities, mindful awareness, games, storytelling, spontaneous art, spontaneous poetry that will weave in some disruptive elements of happiness and support everyone's wellbeing.


Thank you so much. Great to be with you this week. Be well stay well. And I look forward to continuing this exploration of the subversive pursuit of our own wellbeing. Take care.

#mindfulness #socialemotionallearning #schoolresilience #grit #love #happiness