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Adapting the PERMA model to Teaching

Dur­ing our inter­ac­tions with teach­ers, we found that they have momen­tary expe­ri­ences of Joy but they find it dif­fi­cult to sus­tain them. We start­ed intro­duc­ing mod­els of hap­pi­ness dur­ing our Joy of Teach­ing work­shops so that they gain intel­lec­tu­al clar­i­ty on Joy and Hap­pi­ness and apply them by rel­e­vant­ly adapt­ing them.

PERMA Model of Happiness

Mar­tin Selig­man is an amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist, edu­ca­tor and author. His PERMA mod­el of hap­pi­ness is quite well-known, prac­ti­cal and applic­a­ble in var­i­ous set­tings. PERMA mod­el is a sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry of hap­pi­ness and joy that can help peo­ple reach ful­fil­ment in life. Here is how this mod­el can be applied to teach­ing.

  1. Pos­i­tive Emo­tion: Pos­i­tive emo­tion is a cer­tain good feel­ing. For many of us, pos­i­tive emo­tions shape our world­view. The way we look at things changes with our state of mind. Hence pos­i­tive emo­tions make us look at things and events around us in a pos­i­tive man­ner. Many teach­ers shared that appre­ci­a­tion keeps them moti­vat­ed and hap­py. In the teach­ing pro­fes­sion, appre­ci­a­tion can be got from stu­dents, col­leagues, admin­is­tra­tion and the soci­ety. While class­room feed­back from stu­dents can make us hap­py, it does not stay long. When our stu­dents grow up to occu­py impor­tant posi­tions in the soci­ety and acknowl­edge our role in their growth, we feel immense­ly hap­py and that gives us a good feel­ing to take for­ward our activ­i­ties with a pos­i­tive out­look. If we expand our vision for teach­ing beyond class­room appre­ci­a­tions, we can derive much deep­er ful­fill­ing emo­tions. But that would need our full engage­ment and involve­ment.

  2. Engage­ment: Let us see the next fac­tor, which is one of the key fac­tors in bring­ing about pos­i­tive emo­tion- how involved we are with our life. It’s called engage­ment, or involve­ment- how much involve­ment we show. For exam­ple, in our role as teach­ers, there are cer­tain expec­ta­tions. The main fac­tor for involve­ment is our expec­ta­tion. Depend­ing on our expec­ta­tion, our involve­ment is com­plete or par­tial. On what basis do I say this? Let us say that we wish to have a good time, feel hap­py and peace­ful-this is our expec­ta­tion. With this expec­ta­tion, we do our actions with involve­ment. If we per­form our actions with involve­ment with this expec­ta­tion in mind, does it result in a sense of com­ple­tion with­in one­self? Are we sat­is­fied all the time? No. We are not sat­is­fied all the time. And hence only for cer­tain time peri­ods, we get that sat­is­fac­tion and the pos­i­tive emo­tion we expect. Many times we don’t receive it. Why? Because our expec­ta­tions are such. The expec­ta­tion win­dow is that way. Let’s say that our expec­ta­tion is not just for pos­i­tive emo­tion, but much more expan­sive-we ask our­selves why we have come here? We have sub­ject mat­ter exper­tise, we wish to per­form our actions with joy­ful and pas­sion­ate involve­ment and be suc­cess­ful. Then our expec­ta­tions become reduced. Then you will see, you will be able to do much more, with a lot of involve­ment, and through that you will be able to enjoy pos­i­tive emo­tion.

But still, there will be cer­tain cir­cum­stances where it will not be enough if you just do your research or teach; the insti­tu­tion you are work­ing in will give you a hun­dred jobs. Then what hap­pens? Here there is no teach­ing-learn­ing process.You feel,” I like only teach­ing. I like only research.” Then, only dur­ing the peri­od of teach­ing or research,your expe­ri­ence will be good. If there is some oth­er work,it will be like torture,and you may feel,”There are not let­ting me do my work!Teaching is my passion,not this!” Then how does our anub­ha­va become? It changes accord­ing to the situation,because our engage­ment reduces.

Our anub­ha­va, expe­ri­ence is actu­al­ly as per our expec­ta­tions. But we don’t see it. If it has to be enjoy­able, our expec­ta­tion win­dow should be as expan­sive as pos­si­ble, and as fun­da­men­tal as pos­si­ble. “Why have we come here?” ‑this should be our fun­da­men­tal base­line. If we wish to have com­plete and pas­sion­ate involve­ment, our expec­ta­tion should be looked after by us. It is depend­ing on our expec­ta­tion that these pos­i­tive emo­tions are present.

  1. Rela­tion­ship: The third com­po­nent of joy­ous expe­ri­ence is rela­tion­ships that we share with oth­ers around us. When there is com­plete involve­ment, you will see that won­der­ful rela­tion­ships grow. You will be able to con­tribute to each other’s pos­i­tive emo­tions. It builds a strong team. Then there is a syn­er­gis­tic action. You will be sup­port­ive of each oth­er. Then there will be joy­ful involve­ment, and through that, you will reap the pha­lam,fruit of your good labour.

  2. Mean­ing: The fourth com­po­nent is mean­ing. Why are we involved with our work? What is our aspi­ra­tion? How much ever expan­sive our aspi­ra­tion is, to that extent, the work that we per­form will be fruit­ful, and our anub­ha­va also that enjoy­able.

Once we were trav­el­ling in the Himalayas. Land­slides are com­mon in those regions. The loose rocks are held togeth­er by mud. When it rains,the mud becomes wet and loose and the rocks come rolling down. Then the bor­der secu­ri­ty forces come and they do an excel­lent job, clear­ing up the fall­en rocks, in an instant. But in spite of that, when land­slides hap­pen, things are extreme­ly uncer­tain. You will just have to wait. When the path is cleared, the vehi­cles can go again. But when it would get clear, we can­not say.

There was a land­slide like this once when we were trav­el­ling to the Himalayas. I went to talk to an old woman, who was break­ing rocks. She was from the local region. I asked her, “For how many years have you been doing this?”. She replied, ”I have been doing this since a very young age.” I said, “You have been doing this from a very young age. Do you like your work?”

She stopped her work and looked at me, and replied,“Sir,only if I do this, you can, along with your fam­i­ly, hap­pi­ly go and reach your home.”

Her pro­found reply real­ly opened my eyes! Why was she doing this? Only if she did this,we trav­ellers could be hap­py. This con­nec­tion is what most peo­ple miss! With what moti­va­tion do we get involved in our work? She could have said that she was doing this to feed her chil­dren or she had noth­ing else to do. She did not say any of this. She could just see a high­er pur­pose and mean­ing in what she was doing.

  1. Achieve­ment: In doing our work with com­plete involve­ment, with deep moti­va­tion and expan­sive vision, final­ly we have a sense of achieve­ment. We feel that we have achieved some­thing in life. Achieve­ment is a very sig­nif­i­cant moti­va­tor. All these com­po­nents form aspects of what we call as joy. It is not just the emo­tion or feel­ing. It is not just about feel­ing good. All of these mat­ter. If you have all of this, you will see, your life is tremen­dous­ly rich. Who­ev­er comes near you, they will gain from you, bless you and leave. That is when you gain gen­uine appre­ci­a­tion, and hence, this under­stand­ing leads us to right action.

We teach­ers have to cel­e­brate even small achieve­ments of our stu­dents and our­selves. By cel­e­bra­tion, we do not mean throw­ing a lav­ish par­ty of course, but just acknowl­edg­ing the fact that “Yes! I have been part of my student’s suc­cess and hap­pi­ness in his or her life”. That pride is impor­tant to keep us moti­vat­ed, oth­er­wise we might start to feel that teach­ing is a thank­less job. The sense of achieve­ment is very impor­tant.

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