Are You a Head Master, Teacher, Parent or Student? we appreciate your help, Please register and add materials to this site or mail to us for all quiries -
 Home>>What it takes to be really happy

What It Takes To Be Really Happy

Can we immunise young people against unhappiness and depression? Thats the aim of a ground-breaking project to teach emotional resilience, reports Madeleine Bunting

Children can be equipped with the emotional skills to handle the ups and downs of teenage years, says psychologist Martin Seligman.

There is a sharp spring wind rattling the window panes of Epinay school in Jarrow, South Tyneside, but the attention of the eight children in the class is firmly fixed on their teacher, Deborah Wilson. Up on the board is a cartoon of two boys discussing a girl they both like, with speech bubbles floating above their heads. Wilson is explaining to the children how the speech bubbles contain "self-talk"— the thoughts and conversations that go on in our heads. She is explaining how pessimistic thoughts can become self-fulfilling, while optimistic thoughts have more constructive outcomes. She encourages the children to challenge the negative thoughts, look for an alternative way of thinking, and be sure to put the situation into perspective.

It sounds much like common sense, and some would argue that it is a waste of precious timetable space. But Wilson believes that she has seen two-thirds of her class benefit from the programme she has been teaching to her year 7 pupils since the beginning of the year. "I've seen a change in the children," she says. "We've got a culture of pessimism, and a lot of the problems today are because a lot of parents are like overgrown children. What I'm teaching is what the wise man of the community might be doing."

What brought the issue into sharp focus for Wilson was her realisation on a recent trip to a school in South Africa that while the children in South Tyneside were considerable better off materially, the children in South Africa seemed happier.

Wilson is well aware that many of her pupils come from very difficult backgrounds— Epinay is a special school for children with moderate learning difficulties and behavioural problems— and recognises that her lessons in optimism might sometimes be difficult to take back to homes where there might be a history of abuse and neglect. But she believes she is giving the children a set of emotional tools that will help them to deal with the knocks of life.

The children are enthusiastic; they like the role play and games. But does it help them? Ted is in no doubt. He says: "A friend called me gay, but I can't be, because I've got a girlfriend, so I just walked away. I didn't get into a fight. I wouldn't have done that before."

Another pupil is troubled by an incident in which it was no help. "I was in the park and got attacked by a gang of kids," Susie says. "They rammed me with their bicycle, pulled my hair and called me names and said I was overweight. I ran away, but they came after me. That's when I fought back. I couldn't use the strategies."
Wilson, however, is confident that both children have benefited considerably, and that their self-confidence and ability to handle emotional conflict have improved.

On the other side of South Tyneside, another group of year 7 children in Boldon comprehensive school are working on a lesson on aspiration and procrastination, delivered by Val Shrub, a learning mentor. Like Wilson, she has found in the programme much that was common sense to her. It echoed the upbringing she had in a home that was full of laughter, and where she learned how to look at the funny side of things, but also learned that "you reap what you sow".

Shrub says some of the children have this capacity to deal with adversity already, but worries that many do not. "I think children now are a lot more confident and streetwise, but they think things are going to be easy for them, and when they don't work out, they become angry and frustrated," she says. "It's good to get to these kids before they can get angry."

Shrub and Wilson— delivering a programme developed in the US by a group of psychologists led by Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania— were among a party of more than 100 staff from three local authorities (Manchester and Hertfordshire are the other two) who travelled to the US last summer for a two-week training in the Penn Resilience Programme (PRP). There are 1,800 children now receiving PRP in the three local authorities.
Seligman's idea is very simple and very ambitious. He argued in his book, The Optimistic Child, that western developed nations are facing a growing problem of adolescent depression, which has huge costs to wellbeing, educational achievement and, ultimately, economic competitiveness. The answer, Seligman urged, was to develop the equivalent of an immunisation programme for children. Get to children early enough, and you can provide them with emotional skills to handle the ups and downs of teenage years.

"Over the last 20 years, we've done 13 replications of this programme and 11 of them were successful," Seligman says. "The UK programme is the largest so far in the world, and next year, in Australia, an entire school of 1,200 is going to do it in the first wholescale study. We are working in about 60 schools in the US."

Seligman is one of the most famous advocates of positive psychology, having popularised his academic research on what constitutes human wellbeing in bestsellers such as Authentic Happiness.

His PRP is a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and social skills such as negotiation, coping strategies and decision-making.

Children are encouraged to challenge tendencies to "catastrophise"— think the worst— and to "look for evidence" instead.

Based on the results of randomised controlled studies, he argues that teaching children these kinds of responses significantly reduces their chances of a depression. He says: "Depression leads to low productivity and poor physical health.

“Multiply that by a lot of people, and that affects a whole country."

  • Joy of reading maths
  • Joy of reading physics
  • Joy of reading chemistry
  • Joy of reading biology
  • Joy of reading maths
  • Joy of reading physics
  • Joy of reading chemistry
  • Joy of reading biology
Comprehensive guide on hospitals information helps you quickly locate a hospital anywhere in the world.
  • Follows us our servcies