Skip to main content

Research has shown that the strongest predictor of happiness — more than even money or physical health — is the strength of your social connections. That’s true for adults and children.

Christina Hinton, Ed.M.'06, Ed.D.'12, knows all too well the importance of happy students and teachers after nearly a decade partnering with schools around the world to conduct collaborative research in classrooms as founder and CEO of Research Schools International.

When she was a doctoral student at the Ed School, Hinton found in her study on happiness that for students from elementary school to high school, happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement. She also found that creating strong relationships with teachers and peers plays an important role in student happiness.

Now more than ever it is crucial to discover ways to encourage happiness and connection when so many are still apart, and Hinton says it doesn’t take that much to do. “You can do really small things and they can have a big impact on happiness.” Some of her suggestions include:

  • Find the right balance of challenge. Research has shown that too little challenge can lead to boredom, but too much challenge and a person will become discouraged. “There is an optimal level of challenge where people are engaged but not overwhelmed called the Zone of Proximal Development,” says Hinton. During remote learning, setting realistic goals is important. Teachers need to remember that students aren’t going to move at the same pace as they could in the classroom, and to also adjust goals for students in unique circumstances.
  • Provide social connection. All students are going to need extra emotional support this year, and it is important to make a special effort to build community. Hinton says teachers, especially those still teaching virtually, should find new ways to connect, such as offering virtual office hours or fun end-of-year virtual social events. Hinton also says to remember to practice compassion, especially with students who are disruptive. “Everyone is experiencing stress right now. You don’t know what they are facing at home. Offer compassion, understanding and support. Instead of punishments, set clear boundaries with natural consequences.”
  • Help students to flourish. When students are flourishing, they are more motivated and more effective learners. Hinton says there are a number of ways to promote flourishing during in-person or remote learning, such as:
  • Practice gratitude. “Research shows that low-lift strategies that promote gratitude can have a big impact on happiness,” Hinton says, like having students write down one thing they are grateful for in a Zoom chat or before an in-person class begins.
  • Support others. “If you want to be happy and flourish, you should focus on supporting others,” Hinton says. Encouraging students to engage in acts of kindness in their daily lives is a good place to start, or teachers can choose a cause to work on together as a class.
  • Incorporate humor. Finding something to laugh about this year might be difficult, but it’s worth it. “Research shows that laughter not only boosts well-being and happiness, but also physical health,” Hinton says.

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Related Articles