Tag Archives: Positive Psychology

The Gross National Happiness of Bhutan: A Case Study

Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas on the ancient Silk Road between Tibet, India and Southeast Asia, Bhutan is a small country with a distinct national identity. Intrepidly focused on the well-being of its citizens, instead of measuring gross domestic product to gage national progress, they measure gross national happiness.

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a philosophy that steers the government of Bhutan and was first coined by the fourth King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, in 1972—a concept that implies that “sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to the aspects of well-being.” Since then, the idea of GNH has influenced Bhutan’s economic and social policy, and most recently has become engrained in the school system through positive education.

The leading authority in Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, identified Bhutan as the most enabling environment to promote well-being as a whole nation. Because of this distinction, Seligman and his team approached Bhutan’s government to launch a pilot programme: Education for Gross National Happiness, which focuses on integrating positive psychology tactics into the school curriculum. Bhutan’s government was eager to participate and adopt positive education into its larger community.

Seligman and his team began their mission by identifying what the most relevant skills were for determining happiness within the Bhutanese culture and how these could be transformed into life skills.

The following ten life skills were identified:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Decision making
  4. Communication
  5. Creative thinking
  6. Empathy
  7. Problem solving
  8. Interpersonal relationships
  9. Resilience
  10. Self-awareness

From this, 18 secondary schools were randomly assigned to receive the new GNH curriculum. Prior to implementing the curriculum, baseline measurements (based on key indicators from the 10 life skills) determining the well-being in every student, teacher and staff member at each of these schools were completed. During the next 15 months, the GNH curriculum was taught with much seriousness, having one period solely dedicated to Life Skills and Positive Education.

After the programme’s completion, follow-up tests were completed that indicated a significant increase in participant well-being—an outcome Seligman and his team had predicted. What wasn’t expected, however, was that there was an increase in standardized test scores, better physical health and decreased absenteeism. As a whole, there was a higher satisfaction with the entire school experience from both students and faculty.

What this points to is that the curriculum established a ‘well-being ecosystem’—a community of people confidently interacting with one another through positive activities and communication. Since these results, Bhutan has rolled out the programme on a national level.

Gross National Happiness values and principles have become deeply embedded into the consciousness of the youth in Bhutan through this holistic approach to student development, led by principals and teachers as key change agents.

For more than five years, Ridley has been a leader in positive education and focused on creating a positive ecosystem for students and employees alike. In 2012, the school developed a unique strategic vision to ‘inspire flourishing lives’, which calls upon Dr. Martin Seligman’s PERMA model and the S.E.A.R.C.H. framework of Dr. Lea Waters’ Visible Wellbeing Programme. Our two full-time social emotional counsellors continually partner with internal change agents to ensure our community is adopting thoughtful strategies.

 

Ridley Becomes the First Visible Wellbeing™ School in North America

Three years following the launch of our Strategic Plan, Ridley is confidently enacting our mission to inspire flourishing lives in a novel and intentional way. Recently, our school launched an exciting two-year partnership with Professor Lea Waters (PhD), a leading researcher and global expert in the field of positive psychology – making Ridley the first Visible Wellbeing TM Foundational School in North America.

Developing well-rounded individuals has been a focus at Ridley for over a century, however, over the past five years we have deliberately and consciously applied the science behind positive education – the notion of improving students’ emotional, psychological and physical well-being in order to help them flourish in the classroom and in their lives.

In 2012 Ridley began to effect applied positive psychology methodologies, such as Martin Seligman’s PERMA-V model, which breaks down the core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. Since then, our faculty has been participating in professional development, becoming deeply familiar with key frameworks and integrating them into their classrooms, on the sports field, within the boarding houses and even in their own lives. Today, it would not be out of the ordinary for one to walk into the Grade 3 class to witness mindfulness breathing exercises taking place, or to hear students at the lunch table talking about their top character strengths.

With this school-wide exposure to positive psychology, the introduction of a dedicated Upper School Counselor and the PERMA-V model being adopted by faculty and Ridleians alike, it became clear that Ridley was quickly becoming a leader in positive education within North American schools. It was with this realization that we decided to embark upon a fundraising effort to bring a world-class expert in this field to Ridley. With the support of our generous community, Ridley successfully raised more than $100,000 towards a ‘Positive Education Fellowship’ during the 2016-17 Annual Fund campaign.

The search for the most suitable positive psychology expert, who would advance our school’s mission, led Ridley straight to Professor Lea Waters.

    

Although she playfully refers to herself as a “pracademic,” Professor Lea Waters is more formally a psychologist, researcher, author and facilitator who specializes in positive education, positive parenting, and positive organizations.  She is the Founding Director of Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Melbourne – where she has also published over 90 scientific articles and book chapters in 21 years. Professor Waters is the President of the International Positive Psychology Association, has affiliate positions with Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and is the Ambassador for the Positive Education Schools Association.

Among her many contributions to the field, the multi-award winning research professor has designed and developed a framework known as Visible WellbeingTM (VWB), which is an approach that combines the science of well-being with the science of learning and teaching to make well-being visible in all classes and across co-curricula. Over the next two years, Professor Waters will bring her scientifically-grounded techniques in VWB to Ridley, which will enable teachers to use the learning process itself as a delivery mechanism to build student well-being. Unlike some rigid curriculum, VWB is a flexible approach which can be applied in a trans-disciplinary manner across all grades and amongst faculty and staff. With the VWB approach, academic learning and well-being are truly integrated and produce a positive feedback cycle.

Professor Waters’ drive to develop the VWB approach was in reaction to staggering global rates of teen depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide. According to the World Health Organization, 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents experience mental disorders worldwide. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death amongst 15 to 19-year-olds. Ridley responds to this teenage need for support, explains Head of Upper School, Michele Bett, “At Ridley, we believe a child’s physical and emotional, psychological well-being will underpin everything they do – not just in school, but beyond school.”

To launch VWB at Ridley, Professor Waters recently spent two days facilitating faculty and staff workshops. During these dynamic sessions, she introduced concepts such as the SEARCH Framework, which helps identify character strengths, as well as delivery methods and measurement techniques for VWB. Professor Waters also shared why she was keen to partner with Ridley. “What made me feel that [Ridley] would do well by Visible Wellbeing is that I know that the intention of Ridley is truly and genuinely to make flourishing lives. It’s not just a statement on a document…The school has the right structure, it has the right people, it has the right ethos…From an organizational psychology perspective it ticks all the checklist of organizational readiness for change,” says Waters.

Professor Lea Waters facilitating Visible WellbeingTM workshops with faculty and staff.

“I truly feel that the adoption of Professor Waters’ Visible Wellbeing approach and positive education expertise will provide the exact direction, resources and consistent language that our community requires to forge ahead as the trailblazer for positive education in Canada…and North America for that matter,” remarked Headmaster, Ed Kidd. Ridley looks forwards to enhancing the student experience through this ongoing VWB initiative and to sharing our outcomes with other schools around the world.

Ridley faculty show off their copies of The Strength Switch by Professor Lea Waters (PhD), the selection for this past summer’s professional development reading.

“This is a world-class school to take on this new innovation and to marry together the science of learning with the science of well-being to help everyone thrive at the school.” – Professor Lea Waters (PhD)