A friend presented the idea of starting a Live Happy journal project through Facebook. I saw her brief explanation of what Live Happy is all about when she announced she was starting the project with her students. I went online and checked it out myself and thought it would be a fun to do with my fifth-graders at Chester Thompson Elementary school in Tacoma, Washington.
Just the idea of focusing on happiness, as opposed to everything we can complain about, is what appealed to me. Often, I have students who walk in the door first thing in the morning and complain, “I’m tired,” “I want to go play,” etc. Typical kid responses, especially with the group of students I work with. We have one of the highest numbers of kids who qualify for free or reduced lunches within the elementary schools in my district, and many of our kids have very difficult home lives—homelessness, drugs, absent parents, you name it.
However, we discussed as a class how we could turn those complaints into something to be happy about. For example, “I’m tired” can turn into: “At least I got up for school on time so I can work on doing my best and learn as much as I can.” I wanted to do whatever I could to shine some light on these kids and get them to find some happiness.
The day I officially started the project was a day one of my co-workers, who is currently battling cancer and dealing with chemo treatments, broke down. She was tired, felt overworked and didn’t feel that she was being the teacher, wife and mother that she wanted to be. It was at that moment that I realized we needed to start something here that could bring light to any situation. I told my students, “You never know what someone is going through, so asking someone about their day, holding the door for someone or inviting someone into their group of friends all can be ways to spread happiness. Little acts of kindness.”
In this case, a hug for my co-worker and some kind words from a few of us teachers helped to soften the blow a bit.
I wanted my students to understand that a little bit of kindness can go a long way."
My students make a journal entry every day. It is part of their morning work. They come in, put their things away, complete a math problem and finish up with a journal entry of a happy moment or act of kindness. Many kids make comments in their journals about how happy they made me when they finally “got” something or asked for help. A few have mentioned that they’ve written me a note thanking me for being their teacher, and when they saw me read it I had a huge smile on my face. Other comments include things like telling their bus driver “thank you” for taking them to and from school and to “have a nice day” or explaining how they helped out at home with younger siblings.
And at the end of each day, I let two or three kiddos share one of their Live Happy moments. They love to share, and it is a way to give other kids ideas for how they can make other people happy.
Teacher stress is a huge issue—the long hours, the lack of materials, the amount of money we spend on our classrooms—the list can go on and on. I’ve personally spread the word to a few other teachers in my school. My teaching partner has her kids keep a journal, and about once a week their prompt is to write about something they did to make someone else happy.
Many of my students have told me they have told other kids about our project. I see many of them wearing the orange bracelets we received from you. A few kids have passed on the Live Happy journals you sent us to their siblings. And this week during conferences, I’ve had many parents tell me that their student has talked to them quite a few times about their Live Happy journal. Some even bring it home on a regular basis to write more than what is required.
I hope to continue spreading the word around my school and possibly out into the community as well. We’re still only in the beginning, but hopefully as the year goes on, more people will become interested.
I think the mindset has changed with my students because I’ve noticed fewer complaints. When one kid complains about something, other kids chime in and rephrase their statement to something more positive. It’s been pretty cool to see.
Advice to other teachers
This journal project has been a fun way to find the happiness in each day. It gets the kids writing, and it seems to inspire them to want to do things to make others happy. They’re realizing how it makes them feel when they do something nice for someone else. They feel good inside.
With high-stakes testing and rigorous academic material, kids are often stressed. Those with difficult home lives are really stressed. So hopefully, this is just one way to help them feel good.