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Happiness - Part 1 and 2
Elizabeth Del Negro

“The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we think of children, do we think of them as naturally happy? Are we born happy? When does our quest seeking more happiness start? What even is being happy? These are the kinds of existential questions that come while working closely with little humans and spending most of the day outdoors...

“The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we think of children, do we think of them as naturally happy? Are we born happy? When does our quest seeking more happiness start? What even is being happy? These are the kinds of existential questions that come while working closely with little humans and spending most of the day outdoors. As garden coordinator, I see a lot of sky. There are sometimes clouds and every now and then a cloudy day in Southern California; but metaphorically, regardless of age and place, everybody experiences weather. I like to think happiness can sometimes be like blue sky and bright sun behind a cloud cover. I love the experience of punching through the clouds in an airplane because it is a visual reminder that feeling low is temporary. In Hawaii there is a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” While we don’t know how to prevent our gloomy fluctuations, we can predict that if we wait a while our feelings change.

Although feeling happy is mercurial, one thing is certain: first-world humans are obsessed with finding a happiness cure, being happy, staying happy, and definitely making sure our kids are happy. Check the bestsellers list, it is filled with books on the subject: The Happiness ProjectThe Happiness AdvantageThe Happiness Equation10% HappierHappier at HomeRoads to Happy… the list goes on. There are many roads to a happier existence, and we can learn the way to get there thanks to scientists and great thinkers who study the stuff of happiness and share it readily in their books, on the TED stage or whichever happiness podcast you subscribe to.

One strategy often discussed that helps us achieve a sustained feeling of happiness focuses on the human need to feel a sense of purpose and engagement. We know that engagement increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduces stress, and can take our minds off our own troubles. As it turns out, engagement in helping others especially boosts happiness. This is good news! Crane is synonymous with total engagement. We should be the happiest place in the 805 because at Crane there is an emphasis on volunteering and participation in the daily running of our school from all of Crane’s community including students and parents. 

One of the ways that Crane supports student engagement is through service to our community. We have programs built into Crane where our students give service during their free time, and they do these tasks week after week without much fanfare. The tasks may be fairly rote and mundane, but they make a huge impact, and I’m not sure the community knows all the ways students and the teachers who organize them regularly help at our school. In addition to the dedicated and beloved 50-plus tech crew volunteers that run the lights, the stage, and behind the scenes at all our assemblies and performances, there are a few more programs that highlight the selfless giving of time and energy at school:

  • Two times a month a swarm of 5th graders with their incredibly organized strategy of divide and conquer, quickly and efficiently empty all the blue recycling trash bins from every corner on campus and wheel the large containers to the curb. Thank you for your grassroots weekly service!
  • The 6th graders do an incredible job composting our food scraps, collecting and hefting heavy buckets across campus to the garden, diverting the waste from the landfill, caring for our worms, building the most beautiful, rich and dark worm castings known as “black gold” and cycling back the nutrients into the soil and the planet. I know that was a lot of superlatives. Shout out to our regenerative earth supporting crew!
  • The 7th graders participate in Crane’s service-learning program helping directly with food banks such as The Unity Shoppe, doing senior care and support at the Friendship Center, youth activism with elementary schools, and indirectly with canned food and book drives, as well as learning about advocacy. I have been lucky enough to get to go on some of these trips out into the wider community and have been moved by witnessing their tender interactions when they are out with the elderly or the very young, impressed by how much a small group of people can get done in a short time, and how much our students gain from the experience of giving.
  • The 8th graders also participate in the service-learning program for the first semester at Crane and in addition they help biweekly by spooning out the food at Hot Lunch alongside the parent volunteers. I’ve heard rave reviews from the crew on what an important role they are filling by helping, and seeing them interact with every kid and adult that pass through their line makes me smile and feel proud of our kids.

There is a saying: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Whether our students know it or not, helping people and outward kindness towards others meets the basic human need of relating, triggering the part of our biology that releases the body’s feel good hormones raising our self esteem and sense of wellbeing. Also, kindness and helping are contagious. When we are on the receiving end of kindness it inspires the rest of us to be kinder and more helpful ourselves having a ripple effect on the community. Studies show that people who do 5 acts of kindness a day over a 6-week period, even small acts, will experience an increase in well-being. There is another secret happiness trick-of-the-trade; (spoiler alert for Happiness- Part 2) it’s gratitude. Thank you to all the wonderful ways in which our students and all of you give to our community making it a better place.

Elizabeth Del Negro
Garden Coordinator

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