In the UK, broadly speaking there are two types of school-leaver. There are those who leave reluctantly because school life enriched them. Usually they have the next years mapped out and an idea of the direction their lives will take. And then there are those who walk out of the school gates for the last time whooping and cheering because for them, school was a chore; something that was done to them, rather than a process they engaged in and benefitted from.
They may not have achieved good grades and are maybe unsure of what lies ahead, but like all young people they are full of potential. Ultimately however, the education system, with its preoccupation with standards of attainment and grades, failed to help these pupils realise that potential.
I was one of the latter. School and I did not get on. Rote learning did not inspire me. I was bored. I clowned around and was seen as an underachiever. I left with a school report that read: ‘Stephanie is always the class joker and does well when she has centre stage, though she needs to learn that joking and clowning around is not a career option’. Given those sentiments it was with a sense of destiny that I eventually drifted into stand-up comedy.
Today, the smoky, male-dominated comedy club circuit is behind me and I run my own successful business. My 10-year comedy career evolved into a vocation, which is still based on laughter and humour but is now more person-focused and is about helping others to be happy, to achieve more and to think, feel and work better. While learning my stage-craft, I realised that laughter and humour are the key to getting by in life. They help people gain perspective and become more resilient, confident and happier.
I studied the psychology of humour and, ten years ago, founded Laughology; a development company and also a psychological toolkit. At the time the idea of using laughter and humour to develop happiness and well-being in organisations was ahead of the curve. Eyebrows were raised. Today we are experience a happiness enlightenment. Governments across the world are taking happiness seriously, realising that happiness and well-being should be at the core of public policy because individuals and organisations are better, healthier and more productive when they are happy.
Given my experiences in school, I started to consider how the Laughology model could be used to help pupils and school staff. In the UK there is a crisis in education. Government policy is preoccupied with exam results and tick-box measurements and inspections. The result is an epidemic of anxiety and disaffection in teaching staff which affects pupils. Many school leavers lack the skills to face the world outside the school gates, and depart education without confidence, social skills or the resilience to bounce back from rejection.
Using my own studies into the psychology of happiness, I pioneered the Happy-Centred Schools programme. It teaches happiness as a life skill and addresses some of the factors that lead to pupil disenfranchisement, such as self-belief, confidence and resilience.
Critics may argue that it is not a school’s place to teach happiness. In my opinion that is a short sighted viewpoint. Happy people thrive in adversity. Happy pupils are more engaged and studies prove that humour and happiness help people learn. The pilot Happy-Centred Schools programme ran in a challenging school in an underprivileged town near London. After the first year, SAT’s results had improved by 20 percent. The head teacher acknowledged that the programme was one of the major factors in this improvement.
Currently the project is unique in the UK, we work with several primary schools and aim to develop into secondary education. The positive education movement is gaining momentum thanks to fellow pioneers who believe that academic attainment and character virtue development are equally important rather than mutually exclusive. After all, a school system where leavers depart with confidence, motivation, resilience and happy memories is certainly an ideal to strive for.
THE FIVE INGREDIENTS FOR HAPPY PUPILS
1. A good support system and supporting others
Having and giving support is one of the most important things we can do. Support networks help us rationalise issues, talk through problems and find solutions. Helping others also gives us a sense of purpose and increases problem solving and social skills.
2. Coping skills
Techniques to help us cope with life’s challenges help us be more resilient, happier and determined. Having a good sense of humour is key and helps us to see life in a different way and make mistakes valuable to growing and learning.
3. Achievement and success
Learning is a challenge that delivers rewards in education and throughout life. Learning increases our understanding of many different things and gives us confidence in many ways. Understanding how to self-manage our learning and set goals for achievement and success helps us take control and understand our own ability to continually learn and develop.
Confidence is a key skill. It helps us face challenges and cope with events. Confidence is also a behaviour and a thought process. Acting confidently makes you feel confident and makes others perceive you as confident.
5. Positive relationships
In surveys having good friends regularly comes out as the most important aspect of having a happy life. You don’t have to be best friends with someone to have a positive relationship. It’s about being consistent and knowing how to build sustain and manage relationships and your role and responsibility it doing so.
At Laughology we understand when you increase these skills sets you increase an individual’s ability to flourish in life. You can read more about Laughology at www.laughology.co.uk and find out more about the Laughology philosophy and model in the book Laughology – Improve your life with the science of laughter.