The 3 Rules To Happiness: Part 1

happinessI like to make it a point to carefully watch the students file into the library or auditorium whenever I get the opportunity to visit a campus. In fact, I can usually tell whether it’s going to be a good session or not before they even finish taking their seats (Criss-cross applesauce…). I stand there and smile just to see what kind of reaction I’m going to get. Some kids look at me confused while others smile. And every fifth kid in line or so, I ask the same question:

“How are you doing?”

With very few exceptions, the answer is almost always the same. It doesn’t matter where I am, what side of the tracks I’m on, whether it’s an elementary school or a high school. Ninety-nine percent of the time I get the default, go-to, don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it answer:

“Good.”

Think about how you go about your day and the same question is posed to you. How are you responding? It’s normally that canned answer we rely on. And when you think about it, so is the question. How you doin? Asking someone how they’re doing is sort of like socially covering your bases so that people don’t get the wrong impression of you. Once asked, we’ve done our parts; our consciences are clean. It’s the one question I can ask while passing someone on the sidewalk without having to actually stop to hear the answer. I mean, let’s be honest, how many of us actually expect a meaningful response to that question in the first place?

“Hey, Joe, how’s it going?”

“Thanks for asking, Jim, I’m feeling pretty lonely and vulnerable right now…”

But let’s focus on the answer. The word “good” is not “great.” At the same time it’s not “Terrible.” It’s just, well, it’s okay. Whatever. Blah. One thing I ask students to do when we’re talking about this is to give the word “good” a grade the way a teacher would grade your paper. The majority of kids give it a C. Think about what a C was when you were going to school. It was Satisfactory, which was a more proper way to say that it was average.

The First Rule of Happiness: Always be better than good.

 More than anything, the first rule is an attitude adjustment. If the word “good” is a nice way of saying average, than we have a lot of work to do helping students (and adults) understand their value. I look across auditoriums and libraries when this topic is discussed and I tell them:

“I see your faces and I do not see average.”

That’s when we start over; I ask the audience a second time: How are you doing? The students can’t raise their hands fast enough: Excellent, awesome, outstanding, magnificent, bodacious, wonderful, fantastic, groovy (yes, a kid really said it), and even some made up words (fantastical). The whole point of this exercise is to help kids understand that we shouldn’t just settle for being good. We strive to be better than good, not only in school, but in everything that we do. We should adjust our attitudes a little. Don’t just show up, be an active participant. Don’t settle for mediocrity; raise your expectation levels. You get the idea.

Of course the lesson here gets deeper when we apply this first rule outside of the school setting. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of turmoil in our world today. From terrorism, racial tension and violence to bullies and the anxiety many of our kids go through because they feel that they just do not fit in. There are no easy answers to these issues, but a good start is when we’re better than good to each other.

There’s a reason why this is the first rule of happiness that I share with students, teachers and parents. Every rule feeds off of each other. And in the next few weeks leading up to Christmas you’ll get a better understanding of how these three simple rules can make students (anyone, really) happier and more confident people.


Phillip D. Cortez’s latest book is called Ava & the “Monsters.” You can follow him on Twitter @phillipdcortez.

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