50 Ways to Feel Happy - book review
A brand new book, 50 Ways to Feel Happy, launched by charity Action For Happiness, is just the ticket for helping children learn the skills of wellbeing.
Science of Happiness
The book’s authors, Vanessa King, Peter Harper and Val Payne, are experienced teachers and psychologists who are experts in the ‘science of happiness’, otherwise known as positive psychology. The book is aimed at children aged 7-11 years (although I think younger children can access a lot of the material) and
contains feel-good activities and ideas for children to try out and experiment with. I have read several books aimed at boosting children’s happiness and some of them have felt a bit trite and science-lite – they contain some nice activities but don’t really share why the activities suggested are better than anything else you could do. But what makes this book stand out is that it shares the science of happiness with the children by way of ‘Happy Facts’ in each section. I think it’s so important to share the ‘why’ of happiness with children in order to establish healthy habits of mind. For example, in the section about ‘Emotions’, the book shares the fact that human brains have a negativity bias meaning we are more likely notice things that go wrong than things that are right. All is not lost, though, as the happy fact goes on to say that it’s possible to train your brain to notice and savour the good things in your life, which can help you feel more happiness. It means the activities that follow have a grounding in science and that children can understand the reason why the activities can help them feel happier.
Happiness is a skill
Ultimately, 50 Ways To Feel Happier, gets across the message that happiness is a skill. And just like any other skill, like learning to read or writing poetry, the more we practice, the better we get! Luckily for the reader, the book is packed with engaging ideas and activities to help children practice the skills of happiness. One of my favourites, is the ‘Un-Birthday Card’. To foster your relationships, why wait for someone’s birthday to show how much you appreciate them? Instead, you could surprise them with an un-birthday card to let them know you’re thinking of them! Another favourite is the
‘Resilience Bookmark’ where children design and make a bookmark with little reminders of what helps grow resilience. ‘Ask for help’, ‘talk to someone’, get active’, ‘take deep breaths’ – all practical ideas, all shown by science to help build our inner resources in times of need. The activities are all really well-thought out, they’re creative and original and they will definitely appeal to children and adults. I literally can’t wait to try some of these ideas out with my class at school but more on that later.
Happiness is not about always feeling happy
Whenever I deliver wellbeing training in schools I always make sure I address the misconception that positive psychology is about teaching people how to be happy all of the time. Not only is that impossible but striving for that goal will probably make you miserable when you inevitably fail! What I love about 50 Ways To Feel Happy is that it makes this point very clear throughout the book. ‘Living happily isn’t about ignoring (negative) feelings but learning how to respond in the most constructive way we can’, the authors explain at the start of the book. Later, when discussing emotions, it makes the point further by telling the reader not to ignore their more uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings because ‘all emotions give us signals that help us make sense of what we are experiencing.’ Finally, the book ends with the section, ‘What to do if you feel very unhappy’ for children who may be experiencing more than just the normal ups and downs of life (with recommendations to speak to a safe adult along with contact details for services like Childline and Supportline). This approach is extremely helpful as it will help children understand and normalise all of their feelings - good and bad. It will also help develop the crucial skill of emotional intelligence - the ability to better understand your emotions, and those of people around you, and respond appropriately.
Action for Happiness
It’s no surprise that the book is all about children ‘doing’ stuff to grow their happiness as it’s been released by the charity, Action For Happiness, whose whole aim is to ‘help people take action for a happier and more caring world’. As Action For Happiness’ patron, the Dalai Lama, says, ‘Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.’
One of the authors, Vanessa King, is the charity’s positive psychologist in-residence. She wrote the brilliant book, 10 Keys To Happier Living, which I have used as a constant source for my wellbeing assemblies. The 10 Keys are based on the acronym GREAT DREAM, with each component based on things that have been proven to contribute to human happiness, and they also form the backbone of 50 Ways to Feel Happy (see below).
Peter Harper, a consultant clinical psychologist, and Val Payne, a teacher and education consultant, are the book’s other authors. They also are the creators of the Keys to Happier Living Toolkit for schools, which is an excellent evidence-based programme for schools to promote the wellbeing and resilience of children. I have had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa, Peter and Val on numerous occasions and not only are they warm and lovely people but they really know their stuff! And that really shines through in their fabulous book – it’s thoughtful, fun, engaging and so well-written and will definitely inspire children to take action to grow their happiness!
Using this book
This book has been carefully crafted to be picked up by children, read and acted upon. The design, layout and illustrations in the book are fantastic (a special mention must be made to the book’s amazing illustrator, Celeste Aires) and will appeal greatly to young people. But, parents, teachers and anyone working with children can use this book too. I cannot stress enough how fantastic the ideas and activities are!
I think every school library and book corner would be better for having this gem adorning its shelves. Teachers could easily use it as a resource for planning and teaching PSHE lessons. In fact, I’m even considering using it as a resource for setting homework! Can you imagine if every week, instead of sending home maths worksheets or research projects, teachers sent home a ‘happiness investigation’ from this book? Imagine the impact it might have on children's wellbeing if, up and down the country, children were tasked with growing their own happiness and the happiness of the people around them? Now, that is the type of homework I could get behind. And this brilliant new book makes it possible.
Adrian is a primary school teacher and author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness (due out on 6th September 2018).