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The Happiness Hour

On Friday afternoons pupils at Warwick School have been given the opportunity to participate in a psychology experiment to explore their own happiness, specifically what makes us happy as humans and how we can improve our overall well-being by making simple changes to our outlook.

‘The Happiness Hour’ is an activity being run by Mrs Bradshaw and Miss Hemming, but based around a series of podcasts featuring Professor Brue Hood from the University of Bristol. The course seeks to answer questions such as: why do some people always seem to be happier than us? Is it possible to be happy all of the time? Does having more material wealth mean more happiness? Is happiness something that we should leave to chance? Do we automatically know how to be happy? And, quite importantly, is it possible to train yourself to think happy?

Underlying the activity is the core idea that as individuals we can play a very big role in creating our own happiness. We all have ‘down days’ and ‘up days’ but by learning about the science behind what makes our human brains, hormones and emotions work, it is possible to have greater self-awareness of what will and won’t make us happy.

As Miss Hemming explains; negative emotions are our first line defence against external threats, calling us to battle stations. Fear is a signal that danger is lurking, sadness is a signal that loss is impending and anger signals someone trespassing against us. In evolution, these are all threats to survival itself. Natural selection has likely favoured negative emotions for this reason. But, what about happiness? What does the science say about that? And how can we use this research to make ourselves happy? New neuroscientific research is being undertaken that is informing us on how we can become ‘happier’, by using a grounding in years of psychological research. For example, one study was conducted using adolescents over a two-year period. They assessed brain activity with MRI brain scans when each teenager did a task which induced either happiness or sadness. They found that the tasks that engaged the teenagers with happiness predicted a long term decrease in symptoms associated with sadness, (and for the science bit, all by looking at the ventral striatal activation in their brain!). This is just one example of research that has led to the work of Professor Hood and the Happiness Project.

The Happiness Hour is an activity for anyone and everyone. You do not need to be studying psychology. You do not need to be sad or in need of cheering up. You might be interested in self-improvement or wanting to build more emotional resilience into your character. Pupils from all year groups are welcome and so are their families - you might like to participate along with a parent or sibling and undertake each week’s ‘task’ as a household. If you have not signed up yet there is still time to join. Alternatively, if you cannot attend the Friday afternoon activity you can listen to the ‘Happiness Half Hour’ podcasts online on BBC sounds.

On a final note it goes without saying that the course will not be a magic fix for anyone unless they are prepared to participate in the weekly tasks and that it may not provide individuals with all of the answers if they are currently suffering with a mental health issue. If this is the case pupils of all ages should contact the school counsellor.

The course will be run by Mrs Bradshaw (who is always interested in being happier) and Mrs Hemming (who is Head of Psychology) via TEAMS.