Did attending a 3-day happiness summit make me happier?

From March 15 to 17, 2019, I had the great pleasure of attending WOHASU’s World Happiness Summit. The event was held at the beautiful University of Miami campus, and since I flew down from Canada, I appreciated the palm trees, sunshine and warmth. UM was also the perfect location because this institution is making “mattering, fairness and wellness” part of their mission statement which could be adopted by all educational institutions. 

In the last three years, I have read as much as possible related to the science of positive psychology or human flourishing and completed two certificates from a Canadian university. Learning about flourishing and happiness and finding ways to apply it to my life and work has been a joy. So, you probably are not surprised that I would be one of those people who would want to attend a 3-day happiness conference.

Am I a happier person because of the summit?  It’s hard to say because I'm already a pretty positive and happy person but most likely yes for a few reasons.

1. First of all, there is something wonderful about being surrounded by 800+ people who are interested in happiness not only for themselves but for others and for the planet. One of the speakers, Mo Gawdat has a website called One Billion Happy with that exact goal. Being with like-minded people and meeting some incredible educators like Deborah Rivers and Shelley Roy were highlights!

2. Understanding more about the science of happiness makes it easier to apply it to my life (and share it with others). For example, the research related to expressing gratitude (e.g. writing letters of gratitude or Three Good Things activity) results in positive emotions = happiness for both the giver and receiver! 

I have practiced being more grateful in the past so this is not completely new to me.  One of the things that I did before returning to work after 18-month break due to professional burn-out was to list everything I was grateful for because of my employment.  It was a game-changer because instead of feeling angry "at" the college, I was grateful for all the good things such as making wonderful friends.  

3. Professor Laurier Santos who taught Yale’s most popular course “Psychology and the Good Life”* spoke about becoming wealthy in time not money. This comment resonated with me because I have set myself up financially by down-sizing significantly so I can travel (and attend conferences like this) thus leading to “time affluence”. Being able to travel more definitely makes me happy.

According to Professor Santos, more than 80% students feel over-whelmed because of school.  For more information on this course, have a read http://mentalfloss.com/article/540264/yales-insanely-popular-happiness-course-now-open-everyone-online)

4. Maria Soros made me cry. Her presentation was moving and she mentioned Canada twice! Her message of “I matter. We matter” was a powerful reminder as I continue to develop work in the area of teacher self-care. I loved her whole talk and this critical message. I also learned the importance of good story-telling in presentations - something that we can teach students.  

5. Leslie Lyle’s talk on positive aging was inspirational. She encouraged us to “be a role model for aging”. She suggested that the key to positive aging is “to find the things that we love that makes us happy and healthy”. I loved her use of words pro-aging vs. anti-aging.  Language matters!

A few people have asked me what my top takeaways were from the summit. Here they are:

1. Gratitude – express it and practice it daily. This was the most common theme.

2. Helping others makes us happy – in other words, give more!  Fred Luskin asked “What do I have to give? Who can I give it to?”. 

3. Social connections are important and need to be nurtured. I (we) need to make time for social connections. 

4. Find meaning and purpose – this theme came up many times during the three days. In fact, one of the speakers mentioned ikigai which I think explains it perfectly.  Does teaching give you meaning and purpose or is there something else you would rather be doing?

Sonja Lyubomirsky mentioned that there are 225 research studies on the benefits of happiness but I appreciated that all of the speakers provided many practical ideas and examples to be happier. Lyubomirsky ended her talk with a great quote:

“Happiness depends upon ourselves”. Aristotle

The bottom line is if I want to be happier, it’s up to me. There is no quick fix but it’s worth the effort. 

How can we apply the science of positive psychology to help our students be happier?  What you are currently doing?  Let me know.


Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., CPP has more than 20 years’ experience as an adult educator, trainer, and writer. She spent seven amazing years teaching in Hong Kong and has taught students from 8 to 80. Patrice has transitioned out of full-time classroom teaching and now works as a teacherpreneur (www.teacherpreneur.ca) and also provides workshops on workplace happiness and employee engagement but has a soft-spot for teacher well-being. Patrice’s own personal experience with professional burn-out in 2015 prompted her to reflect on her own lack of self-care and adopt positive psychology interventions which she now shares with other educators and administrators. (www.patricepalmer.ca)

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