Sunday, September 12, 2010


In recent weeks we’ve looked at the first rule, BE SAFE, from three points of view: physical safety, social safety, and psychological safety.

I would now like to turn our attention to the second rule in kindergarten, BE HAPPY. This rule may seem so obvious as to be unnecessary to write about. 

Who would not want to be happy? You might think there’s no need for such a rule. Doesn’t everyone wants to be happy?

I’m a kindergarten teacher, and if teaching kindergarten has taught me anything, it’s to take very little for granted. You might think everyone acts in his or her own self-interest, and that my second rule is needless fluff, a wasted rule.

It’s my observation that people often make unhappy choices. Any addicted behavior whether it is addiction to food, television, internet, cigarettes, drugs or alcohol leads us towards misery. Even “healthy” addictions like riding bicycles too much (an addiction with which I have had some personal experience) can lead to problems.

We need to be reminded to make choices that lead us to happiness. And we need to pay better attention to the choices that lead us away from happiness.

In our culture we are tricked into thinking the stuff we consume brings us happiness. Advertising is especially pernicious in this regard. TV ads show people like us surrounded by happy people as they consume whatever it is that is being sold. We want so badly to be surrounded by happy people, we can be forgiven for imagining that if we consume the advertised product we will find ourselves surrounded by happy people.

It ain’t so. Consuming stuff makes us miserable, mostly. Producing stuff is better. But we can make people happy for free. All we need to do is pay our full attention to the people we're with and, if appropriate, offer to help them. It’s that simple. 

The more we pay attention to those we're with, the happier they'll get. The more happy people we’re connected to, the happier we’ll be. It seems to be a well kept secret. But there it is. Try it out, and see for yourself.

So rule #2 is BE HAPPY. It gets us together and helps to keep us together throughout the year.

BE HAPPY puts students, parents, teachers, and administrators on the same team. The pursuit of happiness is in the Declaration of Independence, so it’s patriotic, too! There’s immediate buy-in to the BE HAPPY rule. It helps knit the class and me together in August when school begins.

BE HAPPY can help us stay together when I need to remind a student who is making a pest of himself that his behavior is breaking the BE HAPPY rule for his classmates. Because his desire to be happy is so close to the bone in him, BE HAPPY can be the first window into his awareness of others. He knows that I know he wants to be happy. (This is a connection with him.) 

He may be able to imagine that if he wants to be happy that others, too, might cherish the same wish. He may have never before paused to think about how his behavior might make his classmates miserable. And since he's bought into my rule, he can see how his behavior could be a problem for his teacher and, because we're connected through my knowledge of his desire to be happy, my problem is a problem for him. Before kindergarten, some students (not just boys, but usually boys) have given mighty little consideration to other people’s feelings.

Rule #2 more or less implies the third rule, BE KIND. I’ll discuss it next weekend.


Corinne said...

Hope your year is off to another great start Mr. Gurney. Be happy was my favorite rule of yours, so much said in two little words. And, you know grown-ups can use them too! They're easy rules for kindergartens to adopt into life as they grow older - ground rules how to treat themselves as well as others. Thank you!!

Dan Gurney said...

Thanks, Corinne, for leaving a comment. It's nice to know someone out there is reading.

Be happy is a good thing to remember, yes, even for us grown ups.

It's a good year, yes. A good year.