How We Can Teach and Learn Happiness

Students at TU Berlin's Institute of Vocational Education and Work Studies can learn how to teach happiness as a school subject.

It's not unusual for school students to ask themselves: What was the point of learning that? Will l ever need to know this in my working life? Why does school seem to demotivate me more than inspire me? Why can't my teachers show more enthusiasm for their subjects? To prevent such feelings of frustration arising, happiness has been introduced into the curriculum of a number of schools in Germany and other countries as an actual subject. Its approach is built on students actively working on their own skills and leaving the class thinking "I can do stuff!" Working together with Sethasa gGmbH, TU Berlin's Institute of Vocational Education and Work Studies offers students training in teaching happiness as a school subject. What might all sound a bit too spiritual for some, actually makes sense for all involved if you look a bit closer. Teachers increase their motivation and gain skills and students acquire the self-confidence to help them succeed in their future careers and daily lives.

Learning objective: a sense of wellbeing

Paula Deutschland is a first-semester student in Prevocational Education and Spanish at TU Berlin.  She stresses that the methods used in teaching happiness as a school subject can have very positive outcomes for developing students' personalities. They feel empowered through the learning environment and leave the class with a sense of wellbeing. "It is very much about raising awareness of mechanisms and influencing factors that affect us, our lives, and our actions," says Paula. This approach is also very helpful for trainee teachers. Paula benefits not only from the extensive teaching experience and self-awareness she gains but also from the course content, which aligns extremely well with the focus on career and study orientation in her program.

Active use of positive pedagogy

It was Dr. Ernst Fritz-Schubert who first developed happiness as a school subject with curriculum and preparatory training based on scientifically recognized contents of positive pedagogy, positive psychology, and philosophy. As part of the "Glück" (German for happiness) pilot project, TU Berlin partner Sethasa gGmbH offers a one-year training program with practical teaching experience at selected partner schools, including in Berlin. The curriculum includes self-awareness, group processes, theoretical contents as well as didactic-methodical ideas for personality development.

The project has been running since 2019 at TU Berlin with the next program scheduled to start in summer semester 2022. "Introduction to 'Projekt Glück'" is offered as an elective module with five credit points and is open to teacher training students as well as students from other disciplines.

How can a personality be developed in a school context?

As a school subject, happiness is based on the principle that teachers should be treasure hunters rather than fault finders. This approach could and indeed should be incorporated into other more established subjects. It seeks to enable students to discover and develop their own strengths rather than focus on what they cannot do so well. As part of this process, learning spaces are opened up to enable topics to be adapted to the students and allow the children and young people themselves to become the actual class content. As a school subject, happiness is not officially part of the subject canon of the German state ministries of culture, but 80-90 percent of its curriculum can be covered in ethics classes. The methods it uses can also be incorporated into other subjects. It is important to make use of the scope available to do so.

Energizing the group

Julia Heinecke has encountered many positive responses among students when using these methods. Her favorite exercise is called "The wind blows for everyone" and is truly energizing - particularly for new classes: "In this exercise, the students sit on chairs in a circle. One student is placed in the middle and says 'The wind blows for everyone...who is in a good mood.' Then all the students who are in a good mood stand up and change places with each other. The student who doesn't find a chair and is left standing in the middle gives a new direction for the wind to blow. Anyone who doesn't feel this applies to them, stays in their seat." The game awakens creativity and the desire to find solutions, as each student wants to be in the middle once to express their wish. Paula Deutschland explains another method: "I always begin and conclude my classes with a check-in and a check-out. The best feedback I get is every time the students say they not only enjoyed the class but actually feel better than at the beginning.

Recognizing strengths and weaknesses

And there are other tangible positive outcomes as well. The students learn more about themselves and their classmates, develop better mutual understanding, and in general work better together. There are also positive effects for trainee teachers that can have an impact on their studies, as Julia Heinecke explains: "The course has enabled me to gain a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and to reflect on myself very effectively. What I have discovered helps me in my everyday life including my mindset when studying. […] If you don't feel good, you can't learn, let alone teach well."

Info events on 21 and 24 February as well as 10 May 2022

Like to know more? An info event will be taking place on Monday, 21 February 2022 at 16:00 as well as Thursday, 24 February at 19:00, and Thursday, 10 March at 16:00. Click here  to take part in the event.

How can I take the module?

The elective module "Introduction to 'Projekt Glück'" can be viewed as usual via the University's course catalog.  To take part you need to submit an application with a letter of motivation and CV (previous experience and references, if applicable). Please send your application as a PDF to info(at)createyourlife-sethasa.de.

If you have any questions, please contact project leader Ellen Scheiter at ellen.scheiter(at)createyourlife-sethasa.de .