True North: HappinessIn May 2014 the World Health Organization’s “Health for the World’s Adolescents” report revealed that depression “is the predominant cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years” and suicide one of the top three causes of adolescent death worldwide. The report goes on to say that “Building life skills in children and adolescents and providing them with psychosocial support in schools and other community settings can help promote good mental health.”

Addressing the urgent need spelled out in the WHO report, organizations worldwide are collaborating to develop school and community interventions. One of the interventions with a rapidly growing body of impact evidence is the intentional development of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies.

The focus on SEL is attracting new found attention in schools around the world in the belief that it can help, in part, ameliorate some of the negative tensions and stress driving mental health issues in our schools today. There is no more obvious indicator of the recognition of the critical nature of  SEL in the United Stated than with the recent inclusion of funding for non-cognitive measures like school climate and social emotional skills in the the new Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Underlying the research findings and applications for promoting positive psychology in education is the necessary premise reflected in the WHO report – that there is a great need/hunger for nurturing positive emotions, character strengths, values and happiness among children. In doing so, we can not only ward off the devastating effects of the illnesses WHO describes, but we can help students thrive for a lifetime.

Dr. Neal H. Mayerson, Chairman of Via Institute on Character, delivered the following message to the fourth annual International Conference on Psychology & Allied Sciences (ICPAS) taking place in Goa, India last week. It’s theme? “Positive Schooling: A Heaven for Holistic Development.”

“As educators, you can have a substantial impact on the life trajectories of your students. You can nurture and support authentic self-expression. You can take an interest in who each of your students are – their individuality. You can help each of them become more keenly aware of themselves and create classroom and school cultures where the emphasis is on what’s strong as opposed to what’s wrong. You can help each student become an expert in using their unique profile of strengths to achieve personally meaningful and fulfilling success. In so doing, you will send them out into the world with a value-based compass that they can use forever as they navigate the journey of life. And, as you do this, you will be modelling a positive and nurturing approach to parents as well.”

Fortunately, conferences like ICSSR are happening around the world. (see Positive Schools: Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference and, in the U.S., the upcoming IPEN Festival) Together, they hold the promise to radically transform the experience of learners of all ages, significantly reducing the concerns of the WHO report. I look forward to watching learners explore a new vision of themselves and their world and seeing the transformation that follows for all of us!