Happiness Hacks – simple positive psychology exercises for teachers and students

Happiness Hacks – simple positive psychology exercises for teachers and students.

Marc Helgesen (Japan) shares happiness hacks based on the science of positive psychology



There are many short, simple activities we can do to make ourselves and others happier. Dr. Laurie Santos of Yale University and The Happiness Lab blog refers to them as “happiness hacks.”  What follows are happiness hacks. Most you can do either for yourself or with your students, or both. The first are silent. Most you can do privately, even if you are in public. The second set you may want to do out loud. Many you are likely to want to share with your students. Enjoy.

LINKS: Happiness blog link: https://www.happinesslab.fm/

Happiness hacks link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gwi-rzSwlQ

Silent happiness hacks

(Those with links have a variation you might want to do with students).

Time confetti (Explained at 14:45 in the linked podcast) Yale’s Laurie Santos time-confettisays we actually have more free time than we did 10 years ago. It is just broken into tiny bits. We often don’t use it. Make a list of good things you could do in those 3- to 15-minutes chunks of free time (remember you are trying to be happier, not necessarily more productive). Make your list. Then, when you have free time (10 minutes until your next ZOOM?) do one.  Starter list:

  • Go for a short walk outside
  • 3-minute meditation
  • Ice cream on a hot day
  • Massage your eyes / head
  • Stretch
  • Quick exercises (burpees, jumping jacks, etc.) while students are in breakout rooms

Notice nature walks.  Take a slow walk outside. Notice nature. Even if you are in a big city, there are probably elements of nature: the breeze rustling leaves in the trees. Leaves crunching under your feet. The sounds of birds. See how much you can notice.  In the spring, try walking somewhere where you can smell flowers, etc.

smileJust smile. Sit somewhere private. Close your eyes. Make a big smile on your face. The smile is likely to trigger positive neurotransmitters. Notice how the feeling builds.

Spreading and catching smiles. In some public place, smile at strangers. Many will smile back. We naturally reflect smiles. Of course, if someone doesn’t smile back right away, look at someone else. You don’t want to come off in an inappropriate way.

Breathing 6-5-4.  Breathing is one of the quickest ways to work with the mind/body connection. A basic concept is to breathe out through the mouth and breathe in through the nose. This is because the mouth is bigger than the nostrils. You want to expel as much old air as possible.  A good way is to breathe in for the count of six, hold your breath for the count of five, breathe out for the count of four, then hold again for the count of five.  Repeat several times.  The important thing is not the specific count, it is the ratio. You can raise or lower the numbers to match what feels good to you. If you aren’t used to doing yoga breathing, you might feel a bit dizzy.  I teach my students this for settling their nerves before something stressful like presentations, big tests or job interviews. You can do it privately in pubic.

Walking meditation (fast) (breathing).  You easily can combine Breathing 6-5-4 with a walking meditation. Go of a walk at a fairly relaxed pace. Use your breathing and steps to match you 6-5-4 pattern as in Breathing 6-5-4.  Note, this is a walking meditation but your eyes are open.

Walking meditation (slow). This time your eyes are closed. You need an open space, like a gym or big hall that isn’t being used at the time. You need a lane of about 5-8 meters that doesn’t have chairs or other things to trip over. Stand and close your eyes. Breathe deeply a few times  Very, very slowly, lift your right foot. Move it forward about half the length of your foot. As you do, notice the muscles in your foot and leg. Set your foot down. Shift your weight from your left. Notice every muscle move. Slowly repeat the pattern: lift, forward, step down, shift. Repeat the pattern until you have gone several meters forward. If time permits, turn around and slowly return to your starting point.

Eating with mindfulness.  Get a piece of fruit or chocolate. You are going to eat it as slowly as possible, using all the senses. Start by looking at it. If it is fruit, notice what is different about this piece compared to another one. Smell it. Depending on what you are going to eat, the smell might be enough to make your mouth wet with saliva in anticipation of the treat. Bite off a small piece. Put it on your tongue but don’t start chewing. Does it trigger saliva in your mouth? Really notice the flavor. Bite into the piece. Does is make a sound? As slowly as possible, each the whole piece. Continue. Really notice what you are eating. Enjoy!

Inhaling in a supermarket. Next time you are in a large supermarket – the kind that has a bakery and a flower shop — slowly walk through the bakery as if you plan to buy something. You are really there to inhale. Notice the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread. Then go to the flower shop. Do the same thing. Notice the aroma. (Maybe buy a flower for someone who doesn’t expect it— but that’s an entirely different happiness exercise.)

listenSounds around you (Sounds surround you). Find a relatively quiet place to sit. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Listen closely for about a minute. How many different sounds can you hear?

For you (and maybe your students)

These are good exercises for you. And you might want to share them with your students.

balloons3 good things today. Each day, probably in the evening write down 3 good things that happened today and why. “Why” can either be why each happened or why it was good. To make this a speaking activity, have students make and share their lists and ask questions about the events.

3 good things a day this week.  Like the task above, but do it every day for a week. To make it a speaking task, again, students share the highlights. In vetted research, people who do this are likely to have up to six months of positive results just from doing this for a week. Essentially, they get in the habit of noticing good things.

Affirmative constructive responses. When someone tells you about something good that happened to them, ask follow-up questions that let them go deeper into the positive emotion: Great! Where were you? When did this happen? What happened next? This allows the speaker to re-experience the positive feeling, and it also helps keep the conversation going.

Example Link: (Active Constructive from 4:18)

Compliments. Why do textbooks rarely include compliments? Here are some to tell yourself. You can also write them on the board and have students, in small groups, give each other true compliments. You’ve got a beautiful smile. That’s a really nice scarf. You’re really nice. Cool jacket! You’re always on time. You’re so smart. You are really creative. After giving the compliments, partners just say, “Thank you.” At the end, they try to remember the compliments, think about them and smile.

Growth mindset responses. Most of us think of Dweck’s growth mindset responses as being for students. But they are good for use as teachers, too. When you do something well, compliment yourself. Here are some ways: Your hard work paid off! You really tried hard on that. You proved that you can do it! You should be proud of what you accomplished. You kicked butt! Of course, these work well with your students, too.

worldThank you to the world. Alone or with a partner, see how many languages you can say, “Thank you” to. Think of a reason to thank that language or culture. How many can you list? Examples: I want to say “shukran” to the Arab world. They invented math. (I don’t like math but it is important.) I want to say “gratze” to Italy for great art. And pizza.

Positive words. If doing this on your own, choose the list you want to use. If you live in a place where English is not the first language, consider translating the list(s) into the local language. Today or this week, try to use them in daily conversation or in class. How many can you use today? Tomorrow? This week?

Elementary: good, joy, nice, helpful, happy, love, smile, kind, great, fun, cool, sweet, enjoy, super, laugh.

Intermediate: wonderful, incredible, pleasant, excellent, delightful, peaceful, enjoyable, fantastic, fabulous, terrific, brilliant, amazing, awesome, marvelous, outstanding. Each evening, see how many you can remember. How did you use them? You can have students try this, too.

Make your job a calling. Amy Wrzesniewski (Yale School of Management) says occupations can be “a job” (you do it for the money), “a career” (money plus status, opportunities for promotion, etc. ) or “a calling” (you do it because you are contributing to a greater good). This can be any job, but maybe easier for us since we are teachers. Tal ben-Shahar says you can find the calling in your job with an MPS (Meaning/Pleasure/Strengths) model. Think about the part of your job that makes it meaningful. Perhaps helping students communicate independent of you. What in your job gives you pleasure? Seeing your students succeed? Where does that cross over with your skills. You are a teacher. You know how to help students do things. That center point in a Venn diagram is your calling. Enjoy it. Maybe it isn’t there every hour of every day but appreciate it whenever you notice it. And notice it often.

Happiness Haiku

(This takes a bit longer than the others, but will give you 8 great topics to reuse.)

8 things happy people do.

  • Remember good things when they happen.
  • Thank people.
  • Do kind things.
  • Take time for friends and family.
  • Forgive (including yourself)
  • Notice good things as they happen (mindfulness).
  • Take care of your health and body.
  • Find ways to take care of problems.

Teach these, probably one at a time.

Then have groups make haiku (5-7-5 syllable poems) on posters. Share.

Artwork © clipart.com. Used under license to the author.

Fixing your biggest work from home problems in 2021

Fixing your biggest work from home problems in 2021

Chris Rush (USA) provides solutions for three of the most common issues related to working from home


Now that we’re well into 2021 and working from home is more mainstream than ever before, we need to talk about self-care. This topic has been too easily overlooked (especially for teachers but for all professionals) because it’s tragically easy to assume that working from home (WFH) makes self-care easier.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s assume that the adjustment period is over, and you’re used to the new normal of now working from home — you’ve got your working corner set up, and your family finally understands that this isn’t vacation.

There are long-term perils of working from home, and if you’re a 1-year WFH veteran, it’s likely that you’re over the initial growing pains and now starting to come to terms with the long-term effects. Let’s talk about them and how to deal with them.

Problem one: the blurring boundaries between working time and home time.

This can happen slowly and innocently. You start off by enjoying the breaks you can take during the workday, whether it’s to spend time with family, exercise, or just take a nap. You make up for the lost workday time by having your laptop on during evening TV time. Gradually, the boundaries between when you’re working and not working begin to fade. Eventually you feel like you constantly have a screen in front of you — computer, tablet, phone, and even during the time that you’re supposed to be relaxing you’re thinking about the work you “should” be doing instead. This didn’t happen before because work was in a specific geographic location that was distinct from your home, but now your work life has invaded all your personal spaces. Anxiety over tasks undone replaces the pleasure you used to feel at home.

The fix: make your “work” as location-specific as possible.

Stop mixing locations. Make your office, or your desk, the only place you work from. If you have a laptop and you’re used to working from the kitchen table or couch, try confining it to one specific place, and that place will be “where work happens.” When you go there, your mind can switch into work mode. When you’re in this place, don’t engage in distraction — this location is your sacred workspace — you can check social media from any other location in your home, but save this one for work. This strategy works especially well if you have multiple devices. A “work computer” can be used only at the desk for work purposes. Don’t work from your couch on your tablet — reserve that for fun, and keep it away from your work area. You can make this boundary stronger by wearing “work clothes” in your work area — anything that makes you feel like it’s time to get down to business — and changing into something more comfortable when you’re finished for the day. Do your best to keep to a timetable — decide what time you’ll stop working that day, and when that time comes, leave everything else until tomorrow.

Problem two: your work area is not optimized.

It’s likely that when you first started working from home, home office supplies were scarce. Things like external monitors and webcams were out of stock for months, so we had to make do with what was available. It’s quite possible that you got used to sub-optimal conditions for work, and then forgot about trying to improve them.

The fix: upgrade your workspace.

Hunching over a laptop on a desk is a bad way to spend 8 hours a day. If you don’t have a desktop computer, get an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and elevate the display so that you’re not looking down at it (your neck will thank you). You could even skip the monitor and just get the mouse and keyboard and prop the laptop on a stack of books. The point is not to get nice things, but to reduce or eliminate repetitive strain injuries. It has also been said that sitting down for 8 hours a day is as negative for your long-term health as smoking. Try to find a way to alternate sitting and standing. The ideal solution might be a convertible desk, but you can also make your own creative solution. At the very least, make sure you take regular computer breaks to stand up and walk around, especially if your old job had you on your feet.

Problem three: human distractions

Even if we do everything in our power to optimize the work from home environment, one thing we can never control is the actions of others.  Roommates, partners, or children share our living spaces, and getting work done doesn’t matter if it comes at the expense of harming our most important interpersonal relationships.

The fix: communication plus environmental barriers

The first thing we should do is be honest about the circumstances, and not expect others to read our minds. For cubicle workers, putting on a pair of headphones might be a perfectly acceptable way to communicate nonverbally to colleagues “don’t bother me right now,” but that message might be less effective and more hurtful to a romantic partner. Don’t be afraid to talk about your needs, and make it clear that the more efficiently you can work, the more unfettered time you’ll have to spend with the other members of your household. Once you’ve had the necessary conversations and negotiated the proper interpersonal boundaries, you’ll be able to implement physical boundaries — closing the office door if you have an office, donning the aforementioned headphones, or hanging the background sheet behind you which family will know to interpret as “shh, Mommy’s on a conference call.”

No matter what the rest of 2021 holds, working from home looks like it’s here to stay. If you’ve struggled to make it efficient, I hope these strategies can help bring you a positive outcome. If you’ve got other tips that you’ve used successfully, please share them!

If you are curious about where Chris works, you can visit the website www.off2class.com (Ed).

Well-being for all in Education: A lofty goal?

Well-being for all in Education: A lofty goal?

Patrice Palmer profile picture

Patrice Palmer (Canada) evaluates how well-being policies are being implemented in education


I recently gave a keynote speech at the TESL Atlantic conference in Canada on this topic. In the last year, I’ve noticed more ELT conferences with a well-being theme so it appears that interest in well-being in English Language Teaching is growing which is good news. Despite this trend, few schools or educational institutions are making well-being for all (teachers, students, and all school staff) a priority. For many governments across the globe, there has been an attempt to make well-being a focus, with little progress according to positive psychology expert, Boniwell (2011).

Research related to well-being is exploding but there has been an ongoing debate about a precise definition (and a definition for teacher well-being as well). The World Health Organization (2004) defines well-being as the presence of ‘a state in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community’. In more simple terms, well-being is about feeling positively about life, full of energy and good health (Centres for DC, 2018).

Student Well-being

Sadly, mental health issues in children and youth have been increasing globally. During the pandemic, these rates have further increased. Students who are not well will struggle academically and as Vella-Broderick & Chin (2021) suggest, well-being is important in its own right and a prerequisite for learning. Furthermore, there is a positive association between learner well-being and higher academic achievement (Suldo et al., 2011). Teachers want their students to be well but often do not have the resources, support or training to do this vital work.

Teacher Well-being

There has been significant research conducted related to stress in the teaching profession. Teacher stress is higher and well-being lower than in the general population, and stressed teachers are less effective in the classroom (Bentea, 2017; Sanetti, 2021). More attention needs to be paid to the impact of stress on teachers, their ability to function and perform well, and sustain their careers. Teacher well-being is important because without well teachers, Greenberg (2021) argues that “we will not have healthy schools and successful students.”  It’s imperative that schools and learning organizations address teacher well-being and implement initiatives that encourage and support well-being.

The Well-being Connection:  Students and Teachers

Teacher and student well-being is closely linked. Simply put, the mental health and well-being of teachers impacts the mental health and well-being of students (Greif Green, 2021). In addition, there is interesting research from the University of British Columbia (UBC, 2016) that suggests a link between teacher burnout and student stress. The notion of stress contagion indicates that teachers can pass on stress to students. The key take-away is that learning happens best when teachers and their students are well, but as teachers flourish, relationships with students, colleagues and the larger community become more positive (Cherkowski & Walker, 2018). Therefore, there are many reasons why student and teacher well-being may be a lofty goal but a worthy one.

Why Well-being in Schools?

Here are some reasons why it makes sense for schools to adopt well-being for all as a goal:

Schools are important for student well-being and happiness (UNESCO, 2016)

Promoting and sustaining flourishing in schools is integral to societies because schools…are the locations for well-being (Cherkowski & Walker, 2018)

Schools that most effectively promote good mental health and well-being adopt a whole-school approach (Weare, 2006)

Teachers can model a healthy lifestyle, mindsets and habits (Cambridge Assessment, 2021)

Can we teach well-being?

The good news is yes! A recent study conducted by Yarden (2021) found that even short courses that taught evidence-based positive psychology interventions to enhance well-being improved students’ mental health. The interventions include activities like mindfulness, cultivating gratitude, savouring and self-compassion. Given the challenges of the past 16 months, learning about well-being and applying actions to improve it in students, teachers and all school staff is vital.

How do we teach well-being?

One approach is using a positive education model based on the science of positive psychology or human flourishing. Positive education has grown rapidly and evidence shows an effective and meaningful impact on students and teachers within a school setting, and other individuals within the educational communities using this model (Galazka, 2020). Some of the countries using a positive education model are Australia, Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Peru, Mexico, UAE, the USA, and Canada. Positive education focuses on character strengths, growth, resilience, and optimism, as well as a goal of both well-being and academic mastery (White & Kern, 2018). I have posted some resources below to get you started.


CorStone – http:// corstone.org/girls-first-bihar-india

ELT and Happiness – http://www.eltandhappiness.com/

International Positive Education Network – https://www.ipen-network.com

Positive Psychology – https://positivepsychology.com/positive-education-happy-students/

Community of Positive Psychology for English Language Teachers  –  https://coppelt.org/

Growing Strong Minds – https://growingstrongminds.com/

MacIntyre, D., Gregersen, T., Mercer, S. (2016).  Positive Psychology in SLA. Multilingual Matters

VIA Character Strengths – https://www.viacharacter.org/



Clarke, T. (2021). Education brief: Learner Well-being.  Cambridge Assessment, International Education. https://www.cambridgeinternational.org/Images/612684-learner-wellbeing.pdf

Cherkowski, S. & Walker, K. (2018). Teacher wellbeing. noticing, nurturing, sustaining and flourishing in schools. Burlington, ON: Word & Deed Publishing.

Galazka, A. (2020). Positive Education and Well-being in the ELT Classroom. https://www.hltmag.co.uk/apr20/positive-education

Greif Green, E. in Cardoza, K. (2021). ‘We Need To Be Nurtured, Too’: Many Teachers Say They’re Reaching A Breaking Point. https://www.npr.org/2021/04/19/988211478/we-need-to-be-nurtured-too-many-teachers-say-theyre-reaching-a-breaking-point

Suldo, S. & Thalji, A. & Ferron, J. (2011). Longitudinal academic outcomes predicted by early adolescents’ subjective well-being, psychopathology, and mental health status yielded from a dual factor model. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 6. 17-30

Weare, K. (2006). Developing the Emotionally Literate School, London: Sage

White, M. A., & Kern, M. L., (2018). Positive education: Learning and teaching for wellbeing and academic mastery. International Journal of Wellbeing, 8(1), 1-17

Yaden, D., Claydon, J., Bathgate, M., Platt, B, Santos, L. (2021) Teaching well-being at scale: An intervention study. PLoS ONE 16(4): e0249193


Teacher self-care matters

Teacher self-care matters

Theodora Papapanagiotou

Theodora Papapagionotou (Greece) shares nine great ideas for teacher self-care


Being a teacher is a demanding job. Preparing for your lesson, creating lesson plans, teaching your class, facing discipline problems, talking with parents… It takes all of your day.

Being a teacher during a pandemic is even more stressful; your classes are online now, your schedule has changed, you have to learn to use technology efficiently to cater for your students’ needs. You face problems controlling your students, you spend endless hours in front of a screen, sitting all the time, not able to move much and you find yourself working even more than you used to before.

This is the teacher of today.

And while you are doing the best you can to deal with a difficult situation like this, there are people who don’t appreciate your work and the fact that you have dedicated your life to making your students learn.

This is frustrating, and leaves you with a lot of problems; physical, emotional, psychological, you reach burnout even faster than before.

And that’s when you have to put yourself first and do something for your well-being. This is the definition of self-care.

I don’t really know what’s happening in other countries, but in my country, Greece, there is no policy at schools for teachers’ self-care. No matter if you work at a public or a private school or if you are freelance. You are on your own.

And that’s why you have to take things in your own hands and start doing something for yourself.

So, I have some tips for my own experience and I hope they can help you, too!

Watch your weight!

What happened to me in the first lockdown was to gain a lot of weight. I was sitting all day in front of a screen and my only pleasure was food. Until one day, I could not climb the stairs without losing my breath. My clothes couldn’t fit me and I felt really bad for myself. As a result, I could not function very well. I lost my will to create material for my students and I became the boring teacher, who I hate! When I realized that, I took the big decision to watch my diet, adopting healthy eating habits and this gave me my teaching motivation back.


Even for 10 minutes. Take the dog out for a walk and enjoy nature in the park. If you don’t have a dog or a park in your area, just go out for a walk and fresh air. Waking and observing what’s happening around you, can clear your head and you can get back to work with more energy.


If you don’t like walking, you can have a workout at home. There are plenty of free videos online and you can choose what you like — yoga, dancing, even high intensity exercise!  While you are exercising, powerful hormones are released and this make you feel happy, and accomplished.

Create a morning routine!

Eat breakfast. Make your bed, wear clothes, do your make-up and don’t spend the day in your pajamas. Maybe you will not go out, but it will probably change your frame of mind.

Make positive affirmations.

This is a step in believing in yourself.  Some examples are: “Everything will go all right”, “I believe in myself”, “I am strong”, “I will make it today”. It works!

Start a journal!

What are your goals for today? Write them all down, even if they are as simple as “make the bed” or “clean the room”.  Of course you can also keep a teaching journal with your lesson plans and ideas and notes about what has succeeded and what needs more work in your lessons. You will definitely see an improvement as days go by.

Set your boundaries.

Just because you work from home, this doesn’t mean that you are accessible all the time. Set your working time and devote time to yourself and for your relaxation. Students and co-workers can wait. Your well-being is more important.

Spend some time with friends and like-minded people.

Communicate. There are people who are struggling just like you and others who can help you overcome your problems because they have gone through the same situations and succeeded. Don’t isolate yourself.

Adopt a pet!

If you can, this will be a great opportunity to save a stray. You save a life and you get love in return. Caring for somebody will give you motivation to go on. And the selfless love you get is something incredible.

I am not an expert, just experimenting myself and seeing what’s working for me and what’s not. I hope I have helped some of you!

The lockdown won’t get us down

The lockdown won’t get us down

Pravita Indriati

Pravita Indriati (Indonesia) shares a lesson idea (for a pre-teen class ages 10-11) to help students share their feelings about the pandemic lockdown


It has been more than a year since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak that has impacted our lives, the business sectors, and education. Schools have been closed and have switched to online learning. Students have to attend school through online platforms, such as Zoom, GoogleMeet, Teams and more. They are unable to meet their friends, family and relatives. This has had a tremendous impact on our lives, not only on adults but also on children.

In the first wave of the outbreak, Indonesia experienced a total lockdown when we were unable to go places and meet people. It was quite a shock to us as adults and children. Weeks and months have passed, students’ interest in learning has decreased due to a number of reasons: zoom-fatigue, inability to travel and be social, internet connection issues and more. As a result, students skipped classes, were demotivated to participate in activities; and I saw frowning faces everywhere.

I work in an English language course in Indonesia, teaching different classes and levels for 1-1.5 hours each day for six days. In one of my classes, which had gotten worse, I quickly took the initiative to “get out” of the curriculum and give students an activity that allowed them to share their feelings about the current situation and learn from each other.

The lesson (for a pre-teen class ages 10-11) was as follows:

Step 1:

I started by asking how the pandemic made them feel, then asked them to share by typing on the virtual whiteboard. Surprisingly, they came up with different but honest answers, such as: “sad, I cannot meet my friends”, “bored, I cannot play with my friends anymore”, “I cannot go anywhere”, “worried (the student explained that she avoided watching TV because the news made her feel that way)”, “I miss my teachers” and more. Then I continued by giving them some time to share more about it in words to express their feelings.

Step 2:

I showed them the Ted-Ed video about How To Cure Your Boredom and started with pre-teaching some vocabulary. While watching, I asked them to check the steps to cure boredom in the video. During the discussion, some of them shared that they have already tried meditating, reading books, doing art and exercising.

Step 3:

At the end of the activity, I asked them to share with others their ways of curing their boredom and providing evidence. One student showed the paintings she made during quarantine, another student showed and recommended a book she read, and the other told us how to meditate and the benefits.

The next meeting:

As a follow-up, as this is a once a week class, I checked with them at the next meeting and asked if maybe they tried out those activities their friends shared. Some mentioned taking up painting and reading a book. They shared how doing different kinds of activities has given quite an impact on them and how they no longer feel bored and feel more motivated.

It was such a good activity and sharing time that allows them to, at least, survive the quarantine period and learn from one another. I am glad that with this activity, students had a way to say how they felt, showed each other how to survive and feel better amidst the current situation. I could see a small but significant impact the activity has brought to their lives as well.