What made you decide to write a book for children?
The publisher approached me! It’s based on the 10 Keys to Happier Living I’d developed in 2011 when we launched the social movement Action for Happiness. We wanted to have an easy way to communicate the areas in which scientific research was showing we can take action to maintain and increase our wellbeing. I came up with the acronym for the 10 Keys, GREAT DREAM, which people love and has gone around the world.
I invited Val Payne (a former teacher) and Peter Harper (a consultant clinical psychologist working with children) to work with me. They have years of experience in working with a wide variety of children. We had fun coming up with creative ideas for children to try!
It’s so important we give children of all ages an understanding of what happiness in really means and tools to help them deal with the ups and downs of life. We all dream of being happy, this book helps children explore how.
Research is showing that a child’s social and emotional wellbeing is predictive of positive life outcomes as adults, more so even than academic achievement. We also know that children are under pressure to get results at school and in many cases less attention is being given to teaching life skills, of which managing our wellbeing, is really important. Social media is fuelling unhappiness as children compare themselves to others, seek ‘likes’, become distracted or loose sleep and are exposed to unpleasantness. This is contributing to a rise in children experiencing psychological illness.
The good news is that in parallel to all this, in the last 20 years there has been an explosion in scientific studies looking at what we can do to keep our selves psychologically healthy, in short to be happier. This research is showing that we can learn skills to be happier individually and in our schools, communities and workplaces. It’s important that we help children to learn these skills and put them into practice in their daily lives.
There is a growing awareness that we need to take psychological wellbeing seriously. Not only to prevent or mange ill-health but to enable us to flourish.
How important do you feel it is that parents &/or carers work through the book together with the children?
Younger children may find it helpful to have an adult helping them with the activities. For older children, there are lots they can experiment with on their own or with their friends too.
The more parents and carers can work through the book with children the better. Feeling connected to and care for by others is vitally important for everyone’s wellbeing, especially so for children. Having fun together with the activities in this book is a great way to nurture connection! The adults will likely find this makes them happier too! Apart from perhaps reading the introduction and the activities in that, there’s no need to work through the book in order, feel free to explore different activities and ideas as the child chooses. Having a sense of choice rather than coercion is also important for happiness. It’s also good to encourage them to think like a scientist and give things a try!
How can teachers & schools help children build these happiness skills?
A very important way that parents, carers and teachers can build children’s wellbeing is by taking care of their own, rather like the instruction on an airplane for putting your own oxygen mask on first. Children learn a lot from what we do (perhaps more than from what we say!) and wellbeing is literally catching. Research has shown that adults who model these behaviours in their own life are more effective at teaching them to children.
I’ve been delivering talks and workshops to a lot of Head Teachers recently and Val and Peter work with a range of schools. There’s lots of interest in bringing happiness lessons into schools and also embedding happiness skills into other lessons. The book has lots of questions to explore and well structured activities that could be part of all different classes – such as art, PE, English, Science etc. The book is a rich source of ideas for assemblies and special projects either for a single class, a year group or the whole school. For example one teacher we know used some of these ideas to reframe ‘Anti-bullying Week into ‘Kindness Week’. The children explore the link between being kind to others and our own happiness and then practiced different ways of being kind.
Do you have plans for any further books for children?
This book is aimed at children around the ages of 7 – 11 years. We’d love to do a book for ages 12-15 and perhaps one for younger children too.
Vanessa King is an expert in positive psychology, a board member at Action for Happiness and author of 10 Keys to Happier Living (Headline, 2016). She speaks internationally and translates the latest psychological research into practical action to help individuals, organisations and communities enhance their wellbeing and resilience. @changespace
Action for Happiness is a global social movement promoting proactive action to build psychological wellbeing, resilience and a kinder, more caring society. It is secular and has over 1 million followers on social media and more than 100,000 signed-up members across 174 countries. http://www.actionforhappiness.org [@actionhappiness actionforhappiness
50 Ways to Feel Happy by Vanessa King, Val Payne and Peter Harper, illustrated by Celeste Aires is published by QED (9781784930851, Pb £9.99). Perfect for celebrating International Day of Happiness 20 March 2018