student advocate: scale of sad to happy faces

When stress runs high and cash runs low—as is often the case for students—it’s reassuring to know that our experiences, not our possessions, are our main source of happiness. Research suggests that “in-the-moment positive emotions” (such as affection, curiosity, compassion, love, and amusement) build our coping resources—our ability to handle challenges. This, in turn, gives us access to a more satisfying life.

Here’s how teachers and school staff can help their students build happiness and resilience.

Talk about the good times

The memories and feelings associated with our experiences stick with us, especially if we remember and tell stories about them. Sharing photos and anecdotes may give students a boost during stressful times.

Find value in difficult experiences

When an experience goes wrong, help students find value in it. For example, remind students that failing a test is a chance to target some more effective study approaches.

Spend time with loved ones

Shared experiences often strengthen relationships. Remind students that spending time with the people they love is a proven happiness booster.


Thomas Gilovich, PhD, professor of psychology, Cornell University.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology, University of California, Riverside.

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Student Health 101 survey, March 2019.

Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To do or to have? That is the question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(6), 1193–1202.