What is Happiness?

What is Happiness?
Posted on 02/18/2016

At a recent conference, school superintendents from across the country joined together to learn more about best practices and upcoming trends in education. Experts from all over shared with educational leaders how schools can become more effective today and take appropriate actions to prepare for the future. A wide range of topics were covered, including presentations about personalized learning, innovative technology, standards and assessments, equity and poverty, and healthy school environments. While there were multiple keynote speakers at the conference, one of the keynote speakers, Shawn Achor, gave an inspiring talk about happiness and how leaders can help to improve happiness in their staff, students, community, and themselves.


According to GoodThink.com, Shawn Achor is one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. His research has made the cover of Harvard Business Review, his TED talk is one of the most popular of all time, and he has lectured or worked with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies, as well as the NFL, the NBA, the Pentagon, and the White House. Achor is the author of New York Times best-selling books The Happiness Advantage (2010) and Before Happiness (2013).


There were many interesting points that Achor made during his keynote address, but his discussion about defining happiness seemed to really catch the crowd’s attention. According to Achor, happiness is often mistaken for pleasure but, in reality, happiness could be better defined as the joy of moving toward potential. One example that Achor used to illustrate his point included the difference between the pleasure of eating a snack versus the happiness that one gets from exercising. While eating a snack might give someone short-term pleasure, happiness may be gained by moving toward goals related to one’s health and fitness.


Achor also suggested that we are mostly in control of our own happiness. Based on his research about happiness, Achor contends that while 10% of happiness can be predicted by external factors like wealth and possessions, 90% of happiness is related to how external factors are processed by an individual. In simpler terms, research suggests that happiness is more about how someone appreciates their blessings rather than by simply acquiring them.


Some suggestions that Achor provided for improving one’s happiness included taking some time each day to do the following: write down three things that you are happy for; send one note or message to someone expressing your gratitude, appreciation, or love; exercise for at least 15 minutes; meditate for even a couple of minutes; and make at least one conscious act of kindness.  


Menomonie is already a terrific place in which to live and work, and I continue to be encouraged, impressed, and inspired by the expertise and wonderful attitudes that I regularly observe in our schools and community. Perhaps taking a moment to consider some of Shawn Achor’s research about happiness can make us all a little happier and help us to become even better leaders, teachers, neighbors, and community members.


Should school stakeholders have any questions about the School District of the Menomonie Area, I invite you to visit the Administrative Service Center on Pine Avenue or contact me at 715-232-1642. More information about our schools can be found on the school district website (www.sdmaonline.com) and on Twitter (www.twitter.com/sdmaonline).