Very few of us consider “finding happiness” an acquired skill. You are happy or unhappy, based on events and circumstances in your life. But according to Shawn Achor, a former Harvard University professor, that is not true. Finding happiness is a skill and you have to practice seeking it.

That new philosophy of happiness is gradually being introduced throughout District 54 schools.

District 54 Superintendent Andy DuRoss heard Achor speak at a professional conference and was so impressed by his message that he has chosen to bring to District 54 Achor’s methods for improving school culture by focusing on positive psychology.

“Our greatest assets in District 54 are our people – our students, staff, school board and community members. Our people are what make us great,” DuRoss recently wrote in a new book called “Tales of Orange,” written by School District 54 and published by the International Thought Leaders Network.

“No path forward is a better and greater investment in our people than our work around positive psychology,” he added. He expects it to accomplish three goals:

  • Deepen student, family and community development.
  • Create a happy, healthy and engaged learning community.
  • Improve performance and fuel success.

“Having continuously striven for improvement across nearly every sector possible in District 54, our most critical next step is through this work. The potential to directly impact our students is profound,” he noted.

Developing a positive culture

District 54 gradually began initiating the “happiness” program in the fall of 2016 with administrative teams and eventually the entire faculty. It will be brought into all of the district’s classrooms in the fall of 2018, DuRoss said.

The goal is to create a well-balanced system focused on both academics and developing a positive culture to enhance education. District 54’s educators have determined that, as Achor has taught, an engaged brain improves performance, pride and culture, helps retain teachers and deepens student, family and community relationships.

“A positive mindset increases productivity by 31 percent, makes us 10 times more engaged at work, helps ensure we live longer, get better grades and much more,” DuRoss said. “The impact of positivity is both personal and professional.”

Boosting happiness

In order to train staff (and eventually students) to look for happiness daily, Achor teaches that there are five tactics proven to boost our happiness and he encourages everyone to try one for 21 days.

  • Scan the world for three specific new things you’re grateful for. It’s the fastest way of teaching optimism and must be specific. For instance, don’t just say, “I’m grateful for my son.” Instead say, “I’m grateful for my son because he hugged me today, which means I’m loved regardless.”
  • Think of one positive experience that’s occurred during the past 24 hours and spend time writing down each detail you can remember. When you do this you’ve just doubled the most meaningful experience in your brain because the brain can’t tell the difference between visualization and actual experience.
  • Devote 15 minutes of each day to cardiovascular exercise. It’s the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant for the first six months, but with a 30 percent lower relapse rate over the next two years.
  • Meditate. Spend five minutes a day just watching you breath go in and out. According to Achor, doing this raises accuracy rates, improves levels of happiness and drops stress levels.
  • Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness. For example, write a positive e-mail or text praising or thanking one person you know. And do it for a different person each day. People who do this not only get great e-mails and texts back and are perceived as positive leaders, but they enjoy a high social connection. And Achor noted, the correlation between happiness and social connection is stronger than the connection between smoking and cancer.

“It’s not the macro things that matter, but it’s the micro choices for happiness that actually sustain happiness the best,” Achor said.

“You can wire a brain to seek happiness and when you do that, you maximize learning in classrooms and see a reduction in anxiety and depression and an increase in optimism. That is why District 54 is currently in the process of writing a new science-based social-emotional curriculum which we plan to formally introduce to classrooms next fall,” DuRoss said.

Schools, Colleges and Universities

School District 54
524 E. Schaumburg Rd.
Schaumburg, IL 60104
(847) 357-5000

High School District 211
1750 S. Roselle Rd.
Palatine, IL 60192
(847) 755-6600

Elgin Area School District U-46
355 E. Chicago St.
Elgin, IL 60120
(847) 888-5000

Community Consolidated
School District 15
580 N. First Bank Dr.
Palatine, IL 60067
(847) 963-3000

Ambria College of Nursing
5210 Trillium Blvd.
Hoffman Estates, IL 60192
(847) 397-0300

Elgin Community College
1700 Spartan Dr.
Elgin, IL 60123
(847) 697-1000

Harper College
1200 W. Algonquin Rd.
Palatine, IL 60067
(847) 925-6707

Northern Illinois University Conference Center
5555 Trillium Blvd.
Hoffman Estates, IL 60192
(815) 753-8862

Roosevelt University
1400 N. Roosevelt Blvd.
Schaumburg, IL 60173
(847) 619-7300