The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer someone else up. – Mark Twain
If you’re about to start your first full role in the teaching profession, how do you feel about what lies ahead? Enthusiastic? Excited? Daunted? Apprehensive? Perhaps you’re feeling a combination of all of the above?
Surviving or thriving?
It seems to be a feature of the profession as a whole that there is an unhealthy focus on “surviving” your first year in teaching. Sure, there’s plenty that needs surviving; the workload, getting to know numerous new pupils and dealing with challenging behaviour to name just a few. But do we have to aim so low? Can’t we make the leap from surviving to thriving, and even to happiness? Is that too much to ask?
Fortunately, happiness research is booming and there is plenty of evidence to draw on to help in the creation of a happier life. While philosophers have pondered the best path to a good life for thousands of years, modern psychology has only really turned its attentions to happiness since the latter part of the twentieth century, and more recently in the 1990s when Martin Seligman led the positive psychology movement. It’s no exaggeration to say that during those years the proliferation of books, articles and websites dedicated to happiness has been phenomenal. So we’re all much happier now aren’t we? Well, no. Not really.
Ways to wellbeing
According to the New Economics Foundation, since 1970 the UK’s GDP has doubled but people’s satisfaction with life has hardly changed. In 2008 NEF published research detailing five evidence-based “Ways to Wellbeing”. These are:
- Connect – with the people around you. Develop relationships and build connections with others.
- Be active – move more. Go for a run or a walk, play, do whatever it is that makes you feel good.
- Take notice – be aware of the world around you. Stay curious, notice the unusual, savour the moment.
- Keep learning – try new things, learn to play an instrument, do a course, keep challenging yourself.
- Give – to charity, to those in need, to a community group, be kind, be grateful.
Thankfully, it is relatively easy to incorporate at least one of the five each day, regardless of how busy and stressed we may feel in our working lives.
We can be forgiven for wanting to experience a happier life, but we do need to be realistic. As this article in the Guardian explains, the reality of our experience of life is that as one area of life improves, there may be a decline in another area.
Also, we tend to process happiness retrospectively. We might not fully appreciate it at the time, but look back on an event or a period of time and recognise it as a time when we were happy. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get better at doing that at the time? We also have a habit of living for some point in the future. The end of term perhaps, or our next holiday. The reality is that the present moment holds all the potential we need for our current happiness.
Keeping it real
All of this comes with the proviso that the first year of teaching is going to be a challenge. It’s common to experience tiredness and stress. But it can also be a time of reaching goals, overcoming fears, achieving success and realising dreams. If we can appreciate that, and take a moment to acknowledge the happiness we might be feeling on a day to day basis, we’re a long way towards creating a happier life for ourselves.
Find out more
Life Squared is a not for profit organisation dedicated to helping people to live well in the modern world. The website is full of free, downloadable resources, some suitable for use in the classroom. Philosophy Bites is a podcast exploring all aspects of life and living; episodes are free to download. There is plenty of useful of information on wellbeing on the NEF website.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.