Teaching students happiness

Teaching students happiness

Teaching Students to be Happy Equals Success

By John Quinn

Article Launched: 06/29/2007 11:36:15 AM EDT

Last Thursday night, recent Greenwich High School graduate Nick Cooper sat peacefully at the Hyatt Regency. Eyes closed, he was demonstrating the effects of transcendental meditation, or TM, on his brainwaves to a small group of interested onlookers.

He was hooked up to an EEG machine, which measures electrical activity in the brain by way of a cap full of electrodes fastened to his head. On a screen behind him, four lines representing activity in different parts of his brain scrolled by, each unique and irregular. When he began to meditate, each wave immediately became a carbon copy of the other, with larger, more symmetrical wavelengths.

This, said Dr. Alarik T. Arenander, who was in Greenwich to discuss the benefits of TM, was proof that meditation could unify and focus the different parts of the brain.

“This is a profound and almost instantaneous transformation that provides a deep, nourishing experience to the brain,” he said.

Arenander was presenting TM as a tool that college-bound students could use to help deal with the rigorous and potentially damaging effects of the college lifestyle. The stress, sleep deprivation and substance abuse that occurs in college, he said, can damage a student’s brain at a crucial stage in its development.

“College can be very hard on the brain,” he said.

Arenander, a Center for Disease Control recognized expert in alternative medicine who has studied TM for 35 years, is part of the growing cadre of experts who are looking at ways to boost academic performance by improving students’ sense of well-being using a variety of methods.

As schools around the country seek ways to raise grades and test scores, many are turning to methods like meditation to teach students how to focus and remain calm throughout the day, and studies show that it is working.

Arenander presented a number of studies that illustrated the success of students who used TM, which requires twice-daily meditation sessions of 10-20 minutes in which a simple mantra is the focus. An ongoing study using students from American University, Georgetown University and other Washington, D.C., colleges showed that students who practice TM have increased brain function while reporting enhanced happiness, focus, creativity and intelligence.

“This stuff works,” Arenander said. “It can turn any school around, it’s quite remarkable.”

He said that he had spoken with school officials from several towns in Connecticut, including administrators in Fairfield and here in Greenwich, where he talked to Superintendent Dr. Betty Sternberg. Sternberg did not return telephone calls requesting comment.

Arenander said that many schools are skeptical of the practice or simply cannot fit teaching the program into a school day, but there is at least one school in Connecticut that is using TM. He declined to reveal the school because officials there hoped to keep it quiet until results can be analyzed over the summer.

But happiness is not solely the domain of yogis. Positive Psychology, a comparatively new branch of psychology that emphasizes an individual’s positive qualities to maximize happiness, has become increasingly popular since its inception in 1998. It is now offered as a class at more than 100 colleges and universities, including Harvard, where it is the most popular class on campus.

Students who attend courses in Positive Psychology report being more relaxed, optimistic and resilient in their day-to-day lives.

Greenwich resident Nick Hall recently started Greenwich Academic Coaching, a tutoring service that will offer courses in Positive Psychology to high school students over the summer. The course will cover topics like positive emotions, creating good habits, setting goals and yoga in an effort to create happier students.

“For so long education has been about drilling science and math into kids,” Hall said. “This course will provide students with skills that are at least as important as academic skills.”

Hall said there are numerous books and studies that confirm the legitimacy of Positive Psychology. He studied with the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Martin Seligman, who is regarded as the founder of the discipline and has published over 40 books on the subject. The course at Greenwich Academic Coaching will be taught by Hall and other teachers with degrees from Penn, Harvard, Stanford and NYU.

The future of Positive Psychology lies in schools, community outreach programs and corporate psychology, where the benefits of a positive mindset can do the most good in terms of productivity and success, Hall said.

“When I tell adults about this program, they ask ‘can I join your program, too?'” Hall said.

Hall has spoken to officials at Brunswick School about offering a Positive Psychology course, but has not approached any public school officials because he is not a certified teacher.

The Happiness Institute is very interested in applying its happiness coaching programs in schools so if you’re interested in finding out more, call us on 02 9221 3306 or email info@thehappinessinstitute.com.