By, Katie Tsai
“Happy people tend to function better. They’re more productive, they’re healthier, and the research suggests they even live longer,” asserts the narrator of Roko Belic’s documentary Happy. The film, which examines the psychology of happiness, looks at specific factors that contribute to our well-being. Researchers found that 50 percent of our happiness is genetic, while only 10 percent comes from circumstances such as age, occupation, and social and economic status. The remaining 40 percent comes from factors that are not predetermined—those that we, ourselves, have the power to change. These include close, supportive family and friends; personal growth, such as learning how to play a sport; a desire to help the world be a better place; religion and spirituality; and getting in the zone or focusing deeply on a certain task. Trying new things and being grateful for what one currently has also make us happy.
Having recently watched and discussed this documentary with my peers in Health, I wanted to further explore how content students in the Upper School are, what factors contribute to our state of well-being, and how we can improve our overall happiness, both individually and as a school community. When I asked some of my classmates, “What makes you happy?”, like in the documentary, “family,” “friends,” and “community” were mentioned, as were activities such as going on “new adventures,” “taking risks,” “helping others out,” “meeting new people,” and taking time to pursue passions, such as “dance” and “drawing.”
When I asked my peers what contributes to their unhappiness, not surprisingly, every student commented either schoolwork, stress, or lack of sleep, and some felt pressure, particularly self-imposed pressure, to do well. As one student put it, “Any unhappiness I experience is often attributed to…pressure from myself to do well in certain activities. While others do not enforce or inflict this pressure, I often find [that] my competitive mindset and need to excel is an obstacle in my path to happiness.”
Although stress, pressure, and lack of sleep may seem inevitable at an academically rigorous school like Winsor, as the documentary suggests, there are some strategies which have been scientifically-proven to alleviate people’s unhappiness. Meditation, for example, is cited as an excellent way to relieve tension. Taking the time once a week to reflect on and write down one’s blessings and committing small acts of kindness are other strategies.
Besides the suggestions in the documentary, my classmates recommended ways that Winsor can help its students find greater happiness. The most common response was to have “more time for community interaction.” As one student proposed, “Instead of Upper School meetings or assemblies just being announcements, [maybe we can] take time to do activities as a school.” Some examples of activities we have enjoyed in the past, another student pointed out, are bubble soccer or school-wide contests. I personally enjoyed the Lip Sync Battle we had at Upper School Meeting, and I recall students’ comments about how watching it had made them feel happy. Having more opportunities to bond as a school is similar to surrounding oneself with close family and friends, which was shown to improve happiness in the documentary. Ms. Martin agrees: “We have a wonderful community at Winsor, and I think some of our happiest times are when we come together and have fun…It’s important to create moments where we press the ‘pause’ button on our daily school routine, and celebrate and enjoy our community.” Therefore, she believes “that we need to find more time to incorporate FUN (in both big ways and the little day-to-day ways) into our time at Winsor – so important since we spend so much time here already, and for many students, Winsor is their main community, outside of family.”
In terms of reducing academic stress, many students feel that teachers should consider “how their assignments pile up.” Although the no-more-than-two-assessments-per-day rule exists, as one student noted, “There are some weeks that are really horrible for everyone because of all the assessments and papers that fall on that week.” I believe that the student body would appreciate teachers’ considering the number of assessments students already have in one week before scheduling another. Additionally, one classmate suggested having a few more no-homework weekends per year to give students time to catch up on sleep or to focus on something other than school.
As to what students can do to increase their own happiness, one girl believes, “I could definitely relieve some of the pressure on myself. I know that my results will be similar, if not improved, by reduced stress and overall increased happiness.” Keeping things in perspective is definitely important, and remember that focusing on one’s happiness can actually improve performance and productivity. Dr. Blackburn also states, “it’s important for people to remember that unhappiness, even depression, is not permanent and help is available. The good news for most Winsor students is that there are caring adults at home and at school, and I believe the vast majority of our students have at least one adult they know they can turn to.” Furthermore, perhaps Winsor should offer mindfulness classes during which students take time to reflect individually on their current thoughts and emotions. The instructor of these courses could also explain other healthy ways to de-stress at home. In addition to having classes like these, some schools take the time to practice mindfulness at the beginning of Assembly. The whole community benefits from taking a moment to reflect on how they feel and to relax. Additionally, we spend most of our week with members of the Winsor community. If surrounding oneself with friends can improve one’s happiness, the least we can do is say hi to each other in the hallways, help each other in class, encourage each other to take risks and try new activities, and support each other in both our successes and failures. After all, as the last line of Happy reminds us, “With happiness, the more you have, the more everyone has.”