The Gift of Happiness: 6 Keys to Cultivating Happiness


  • Happiness can be cultivated in simple ways in the classroom. There are 6 keys to cultivating happiness.
  • Happiness is a mindset and a heartset. It is a gift you can give to yourself and others.
  • Happiness is something you can protect.

In my experience, when I ask young children how they feel, many will say “happy.” When I ask the same question to an adult, that same answer is not often heard, even before Covid. Has your experience been the same? How often do you answer by saying  “happy” or a word that means something similar? When was the last time you answered like that?

I’d love to bring attention to this especially because of what I’m seeing and hearing from people in my circles. If you can learn how to begin your day with a little more positivity, optimism, and happiness, then hopefully that momentum can carry you through so you can thrive rather than survive through your day. So my hope is to guide you to an understanding that happiness can be cultivated. It is in your control to have and that happiness can be seen as a gift you can give to yourself and others.

Gift of Happiness: Cultivate Happiness

Are you ever tired and low on energy when you start your day? That’s me sometimes. Some days I may go to school feeling tired because I didn’t get enough sleep but as soon as I see my students and greet them by name with a big smile every morning, I am fully energized and ready for my day! I can feel that they are happy to see me too because of how they greet me.

As a Head Teacher, I am in the office three half days each week so I don’t always start my day with them. Our time together is seen as valuable and precious. As I have been sharing in this Gift Better series, I see many things as gifts. Each student in my class represents a gift of relationship that makes me happy to treasure. The relationship I have with my students brings me so much joy every single day. I know they feel it too!

Key #1 to Happiness: Connection

On a daily basis in my class, students are given a soft start to reconnect and fill their souls with activities that will help them be ready to learn for the day. Some enjoy reading, drawing, or creating. Others love to build with Keva planks, Lego, or K’Nex while some just like to talk and hang out. Regardless of what they choose, it is a special time for them and for me to connect and fill their hearts to feel happier than when we first came in. Connection is a key to happiness! We are social beings who are better and stronger together. The gift of happiness can be cultivated by building relationships.

Key #2 to Happiness: Music

To signify the end of Flex Time and the beginning of our Community Circle time, I play a pump up song that fits my mood or my inspirational message for the day. Just last week, I asked students to share their pump up song and I started playing theirs. They are loving it! It makes them feel happy their song was chosen or their friend’s song was chosen. There is extra excitement every morning now! 

On my drive to work, I love to play an energetic song to help me get ready for the day. It always puts me in a happier mood. Music has a way of stimulating our brains. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety…as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.” The gift of happiness can be cultivated by listening to music.

Key #3 to Happiness: Share Love

Before we start sharing in our daily Community Circle, we read my morning message with spelling and grammatical errors to fix. I teach grade 4/5 but I truly believe the morning message is more of a love note that uplifts them to start their day off in a positive and happier way. It always starts with an excited, “Good morning, Division 6 family!” (or some variation with a hello in different languages), asking them about their mood and/or energy, and an invitation to share something. I always remind them that they are loved in my morning message too. The gift of happiness can be cultivated by telling them “I love you” every day. I’m sure they feel it too!

Key #4 to Happiness: Emotional Contagion

In our Community Circle, I always speak first so I model what I wish to see during our meeting time. Students can always see how happy I am to be there to spend my day or half day with them because I make it explicit. They can see it authentically in my face even behind my mask. They can hear it authentically in my voice and see it in my body language. It truly brings me such joy to be with them because I see each of them and our time together as a gift I treasure.

Each and every opportunity we have to interact with them is just that—an OPPORTUNITY to help them feel uplifted, seen, valued, heard, and appreciated. 

If they can feel my excitement to see them, teach them, and be with them, that must raise their level of happiness as well as mine! My mood and energy are reflected back at me! How do I know this? It’s because as we go around the room to share how we are feeling, every single day, I have many students share how happy they feel that Ms. Chan is here to teach. With their affirmations, I can tell that they see our time together as precious too. Similarly, they are affirmed too because my excited response to them is “me too!” in sign language. The gift of happiness can be cultivated by joy-filled emotional contagion.

Key #5 to Happiness: A Positive Emotional State

We know that children learn better when they are in a positive emotional state where they feel safe and happy. Teaching and learning is hard work so if I can intentionally make the environment and culture of our classroom a happier space, there is an advantage to making my job of teaching easier as well as their job of learning! It’s a win-win!

All I need to do is know my why and find the joy in teaching! And since teaching is all about relationships, that’s the easy part! See each student as a gift and every interaction as an opportunity to make an imprint on their heart by uplifting them. Enjoy making an impact in their lives every day. Plan activities that are more fun because if it’s more fun for me, it’s more engaging for them. The gift of happiness can be cultivated by having a positive learning environment that fosters positive emotional states.

Key #6 to Happiness: Choose words with intentionality.

I recently finished the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement is this:

Be impeccable with your word.

I taught this to my students and encouraged them to be impeccable with their words. Students who used to speak disrespectfully to other students are now speaking with more kindness. They are being noticed for it because I name it to nurture these leadership skills. (I shared about how I foster and empower students to be leaders in a previous blog post called the Gift of Leadership.) When we express gratitude and show kindness to each other, the overall level of happiness goes up! There is always more than one way to say the same thing. The gift of happiness can be cultivated by choosing our words mindfully and respectfully.

The Gift of Happiness: It’s a Mindset.

I see happiness as a mindset and a heartset. It begins with self-awareness of how we are feeling. Once we recognize that, I often ask myself if feeling this way is serving me well. If it’s not, I do acknowledge my feelings and give my heart time to feel (or heal), but then I move on with self-discipline, self-compassion, and self-love. I admit: Sometimes it is hard. Very hard. Sometimes I need more time but I truly believe I have control because I am in control of what I think about the situation. How I come out of a situation depends on my mindset.

I choose to look at situations with a positive lens. This will more likely lead to feelings of happiness than if I choose to look through a negative lens. Dwelling on negativity does not serve me well. I’d rather invest my time in finding solutions. I have shared this idea so often with my own kids at home and students that I created a graphic for it.

Yes, it’s simple and basic. It doesn’t need to be more convoluted than that.

The Gift of Happiness for Yourself: It’s a Heartset.

Happiness is also a heartset. No one puts it in your heart for you. You do that and you feel it. You have the power to manage and control it. Yes, experiencing happiness takes self-discipline and so does training your brain to have a positive and grateful mindset. Gratefulness can lead to happiness. When you build the healthy habit of doing so, you will find that it does what habits do…it becomes who you are and just what you naturally do! Be happier! This heartset can go a long way in your self-care and wellness.

The Gift of Happiness: Protect Your Heart

Find, put, and keep happiness in your heart and then protect it! I find myself sharing often with students and others the message to protect their hearts. If we are not feeling our whole selves and our best selves, how do we teach all of the whole children in front of us each day? It’s so much easier to be an impactful, effective teacher who knows your why and is fueled by passion when you can hold onto your happiness and don’t allow others to take it away. Don’t give others that power.

We may each have our own natural zone of happiness. We have different things that make us feel happy. May I suggest that you take the time to invest in yourself? The more you invest time and effort into truly understanding yourself, the better you are to manage your thoughts and feelings, and the more effective you are in the many roles you have. Take the time to invest yourself to figure out what restores your soul to a desired level of happiness or well-being. What are your best self-care practices? Record them so you can refer to them when you need them most.

How is Happiness a Gift?

I often share that I am joyfully alive every day because I am. I have learned how to find joy in small things and see things as gifts. Each day is a gift. Each relationship is a gift, especially the relationship I have with myself. I spend the most time with myself all day, every day. We typically enjoy making other people feel loved and happy so why don’t we deserve the same for ourselves? Seek out thoughts and feelings that help you feel happier inside and then exercise your self-discipline and self-control to protect them.

So much of how we feel and our wellness depends on us. Aren’t we worth it?

If what I am sharing resonates with you and you would like to learn more, I recently contributed a module in a new course with George Couros and some other authors from Because of a Teacher that I would love for you to check out. The course is called Recalibrating Your Health and Wellness with strategies and resources to help you build habits and develop strategies that work for you to improve your overall well-being.

In my module, I share strategies for how to build a stronger relationship with yourself by recognizing and meeting your needs. My module is called The Gift of Relationships with Ourselves and Others: Making Impactful Atomic Interactions. I introduce a new phrase I coined “atomic interactions.” Every atomic interaction we have with ourselves and others can help us better manage emotions, thoughts, and feelings and improve our own mental well-being and self-care.

If you’re looking for a great podcast to listen to, I highly recommend the Teach Happier Podcast with Suzanne Dailey. They are only short 5-6 minutes long but full of value. Her podcast is on our Teach Better Network. She also has a monthly blog series also called Teach Happier. I have learned so much from her about how we can cultivate happiness in our daily lives.

I would absolutely love to connect with you to have a conversation or if you need support. Please feel free to share what resonated with you most. I am grateful you chose to give me the gift of your time to read my post. Please click here to let me know your thoughts, thank you!

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