Reaching For Amazing


I’ve come to the end of sharing the series of articles that i wrote for Gulf News 6 years ago. The seventh and final piece was one in which I tied together issues which i believe are critical for the future welfare of students, especially in an Asian context;

a) The increasingly rapid commoditization of jobs that require relatively low skill levels and the increasing degree to which AI will compete with Asian workers for these roles, and
b) What some are calling the existential vacuum – the critical factor that young people need to find life meaningful and purposeful in order to gain satisfaction or even happiness from life.

My conclusion was that we only reconcile these two issues through setting out to do amazing work, stretching ourselves and aiming high.

gulfnews-article 7-06102013
(To open the article click on the link above. The pdf document will open either as a new tab or a new browser window)


Happy, Happy Happy

Dubai has created a role of Minister for Happiness. The head of the main Dubai education regulatory body says his first priority is happy schools. And, as this article reveals, happy schools is a theme in many places with UNESCO taking a leading profile:

The Nation – High Hopes for Happy Learning

As a reaction to some of what’s been wrong in k-12 education for way too long, this is all perhaps understandable. However, it carries with it rather too big a whiff of faddishness and ‘flavour of the moment’ for my liking. It seems like a massively over-simplistic reaction that could be counter-productive in the long run.

Happiness is at the core of Positive Psychology and the work of people like Marty Seligman, Tal Ben Shahar or Shawn Achor. I completely believe that there is a place for their work to fundamentally shape the kinds of schools we develop, the learning experiences of children and the values that shape our education systems. However, this has to happen from the big picture and is about something far more sophisticated than simply suggesting that children should do less work, have more fun and be happy.

Positive psychology is also about pursuit of meaningful lives. If students are pursuing learning about which they are passionate in ways that suit them individually and that have real meaning and purpose for them, then there is no such thing as working too hard. The idea should not be to somehow turn schools in to leisure camps where having fun and being happy for its own sake take precedence over the purpose of school. Learning and preparation to live a great life should be the cause of passion, happiness and enthusiasm in the individual child because it becomes a pull process – something they do for themselves driven by intrinsic motivation. Our problem today is that too much of what passes for education is “done to” children, making them passive recipients.

I fear that under the new enforced happiness regimes, too many teachers will now believe they must “do happiness” to the children. Showing the children to be ‘happy’ will be a key requirement when inspectors visit the school, but the rest of the time little will really have changed. Happiness and positive healthy relationships, approaches to learning and school climate can’t be simply mandated. They have to flow through the training and professional development of teachers, inspired by common shared vision flowing from leaders and key figures in education (such as school promoters). Parents and teachers are crucial in all of this. We have to work to help them to understand the benefits of a truly holistic education approach.

Old wine in new bottles (with a smiley face on the label) will not serve our children well.


Happiness, success, a good life – these are best found through a life of meaning, a life with a purpose. With good reason, I once entitled a Graduation Speech – ‘What is My Why?’

So, today, I thought I’d share this very good, practical, step by step process for determining one’s purpose that I came across a while ago. There are many similar processes around. Which one you choose doesn’t really matter half as much as that you actually put in the effort to do the hard thinking, opening up to possibilities and stilling the voice of nagging doubt that can so easily blind many to their true purpose.

Then, what the article doesn’t say, but is really quite obvious – the objective of the exercise isn’t some beautiful ideas on paper. None of this is worth anything, unless we follow up with action – as much as it takes.

How To Find Your True Purpose In Three Days or Less

Here’s to a life lived ‘on purpose’ in 2016

Happiness Levels of UK Students

Here’s some interesting data about the happiness levels of school-going children in UK. The data’s particularly interesting on issues of what kinds of things worry young children today and insights in to how they see themselves, their lives and their futures:

The Guardian – Happiness of UK School Children

Meaning vs Happiness

In the simplest terms, happiness is not a distinguishing feature of being human, but meaning (a bigger purpose in life) is.

I couldn’t resist sharing the article linked below. For one thing, it takes as its starting point one of my two or three most valuable booms (I reread my dog-eared, noted up copy about once every year – “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

This is an extraordinary little book. If you’ve never read it, don’t just read it, but make sure you own a copy because I believe you’ll want to reread it in the future.

There is no question, to Frankl meaning was the critical factor that made for a good and valuably lived life. he determined that having meaning was the single biggest determinant of which prisoners survived the nazi concentration camps. The article takes an interesting perspective, putting this up against the current proliferation of books and sources advocating happiness. This has flowed out of the Positive Psychology movement (the father of this movement, Marty Selgman of Pennsylvania University is cited in the article).

I see Positive Psychology as a very necessary corollary to the psychology movement that had taken its lead from medicine, seeing its business as diagnosing and repairing ‘broken people’. Instead, the focus has shifted to enabling human potential through understanding of the human mind, motivations and drive. However, i feel it’s a bit unfair to suggest that Positive Psychology is simply about some kind of hedonistic pursuit of personal happiness in the moment. There is plenty in it that accords with Frankl’s focus on Meaning.

Business Insider – A Lesson About Happiness From A Holocaust Survivor

The article also cross-references another favourite book of mine, Baumeister’s “Willpower:
Willpower – Amazon

If any readers want to check on more of what is being said and advocated by the Positive Psychology movement I would recommend books by Shaun Achor:
Shaun Achor: The Happiness Advantage – Amazon
Any of the books by Tal Ben Shahar, who used to deliver the most popular course at Harvard University:
Tal Ben Shahar’s Website

Educators should, I believe, be thoroughly interested in all aspects and issues of human potential. These are all aspects that are about how people can live more fulfilling lives and i believe there are skills, techniques and mindsets that can be incorporated in to our work with children to give them greater scope and more tools to live both happy and meaningful lives.

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