Well-being and Humanities Education in Singapore , pp. 2 of 11

  1. Positive emotion is the positive feelings we have when we engage in certain activities. These include joy, happiness, inspiration, awe, gratitude, love, and hope. What are the sources of joy, happiness, inspiration, awe, etc. in our work and classrooms?
  2. Engagement is similar to what Csíkszentmihályi (1990) calls flow, when we engage in an activity in a way that fully focuses our attention and effort or when we lose a sense of time and self in activity. During flow, one is fully immersed in the experience and the experience is seen as intrinsically rewarding, rather than conducted for external rewards (or punishments). When, in our work or in our classrooms, are we or our students most engaged or in a state of flow, completely absorbed in the task at hand?
  3. Relationships, such as those we find in friendship, family and other social and collegial relationships, are important to well-being. Meaningful and positive social connections enrich our lives in innumerable ways. What are the relationships we have with each other and our students that are most positive, productive and meaningful?
  4. Meaning, according to Seligman, is what gives our life purpose and typically means serving a higher or larger purpose than one’s self.  It often manifests itself in the goals we set and the need to belong to larger communities and commitments, such as those found in political parties, religious groups, or professional and charitable organizations. What opportunities do we have in our work and classrooms for honest exploration of meaning and purpose?
  5. Accomplishment points to the need to do something worthwhile, to do it well, or to create something that is of value.  A sense of accomplishment is often felt as inner satisfaction gained from meaningful work and engagement with others.  From what activities and achievements do we and our students gain the greatest satisfaction and sense of accomplishment?

Although each of these elements can lead to a sense of well-being independently, they also interact to support and reinforce each other. For example, meaningful work often results in or is accompanied by a sense of flow or total absorption in work, and the outcome of such work can lead to a sense of accomplishment. Seligman’s theory of well-being is part of the broader positive psychology movement that aims to examine and understand the positive, adaptive, joyful and fulfilling aspects of high functioning individuals and communities. Positive psychology places greater emphasis on understanding the activities we choose for their own sake and that give our lives meaning and purpose.

Burkeman (2012) offers what might be considered a “negative approach” to well-being. In his book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, he argues that “trying to making everything right is a big part of what’s wrong” (p. 9). A negative approach to well-being consists of resisting the tendency to quickly resolve matters and not always feeling the need to doggedly pursue goals and deadlines but finding time to step back, reflect, and be more aware of situations as well as our own thinking, feelings, and judgments. Well-being from this perspective means that one is able to effectively deal with both negative and positive emotions and experiences by recognizing that these are merely the labels we give to situations.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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