This discussion lesson plan explores the idea of happiness by having students evaluate their own happiness, think about the happiness level of their nation as a whole and look at data on the world’s happiest countries. Then students can talk about what they think about measuring happiness. A lot of extension ideas here.
- To promote fluency through discussion
- To give students practice in giving their own opinion
- To let students analyze statistical tables and discuss findings of a complicated survey
I like to do the survey activity as a warm-up because it gives students some quiet time to reflect and because shy or lower-level students will have a chance to think on their own before talking. However you could do a quick discussion warm-up by asking students to name something that makes them happy and whether or not they consider themselves to be happy people.
Tell students that the theme for today is happiness and that you want them to take a short survey to measure their own happiness. Because some of these questions are personal, I do think it is important to emphasize that students don’t have to share their answers if they don’t want to, or they can share only some of them. One way to encourage sharing is to do the survey yourself and discuss your own answers, of course. If you have a smartboard or a transparency, you can answer the questions in front of them as they do their own surverys.
Hand out the Happiness Survey. Explain that the questions come from a well-known company that does surveys of social and economic statistics. Let students take a few minutes to read over the questions and then think of their own answers.
Alternate Procedure: You can also use the Happiness in Nations database by Erasmus University Rotterdamn. If you click on your country, you will find the happiness ranking of that country by different surveys from different times. Most importantly, you will find exactly which questions were asked. You can cut and paste those questions into a sheet and give that to your students as a survey. The advantage of this is that they will be able to compare their own happiness more directly to the national happiness level. The disadvantage is that the surveys are a bit outdated and some countries have little or no data making for a short survey.
Let students who want to share, discuss their answers. You might ask them to talk about what they feel worried or sad about, or what made them smile and laugh. What problems do they have at work or what is good about their job? What do they think will change in the future?
Now have them take a few minutes to rate their happiness on a scale of one to ten. Again those who wish to discuss it, can explain why they chose the rating they did. And you may choose to share how happy you think you are overall.
Now ask students how happy they think people in their country overall are. Once you get a few answers, share the score from the Table of countries by happiness from Forbes Magazine. You can put the answers up on the board if you like. I would “translate” percent thriving into “happy”, percent struggling as “Average” and percent suffering as “not happy”. Let students discuss why they think their country has the ranking that it does.
This discussion can easily go on for hours as people discuss what is good and bad about their country. So you might want to bring it to a halt at some point, or let class time run out and start the next class with the next part of the lesson, depending on how long your class is.
The Happiest Countries in the World
Now ask students to guess which countries they think are the happiest and the least happy in the world. After a few minutes, hand out the table Happiest and Least Happy Countries. Note that this chart gives the rankings by two parameters: How many happy people there are in the country, but also by how people rate their happiness. Before you draw the students’ attention to that however, tell them to look at the first two tables, which rank happiness by on average how happy people say they are day-to-day. Explain that the results are based on a survey very similar to the one they just took.
Are they surprised by the results? Does anything jump out at them?
You might want to point out that three of the happiest countries are in Latin America. Or that they are all small, not very rich countries. But then so are the 5 least happy countries. They may also note that on average people in Indonesia say they are happy everyday, but most people fall into the category of average happiness.
Now let them look at the next two tables which rate countries by what percentage of their people are happy. Ask them to explain the difference between the two rating systems first so that you make sure they understand that the first two tables look at happiness from the point of view of how happy people are and the second set looks at how many people are happy. Ask which measuring system makes more sense to them and why.
Now let them discuss what is interesting to them about the second set of tables. Again, you might prompt them to notice that the five happiest countries are all in Scandinavia and the five least happy countries are all in Africa. They might also note that Norway has no unhappy people at all. On the other hand, the five least happy countries all have very few happy people and not very many unhappy people. The majority are of average happiness.
Comparing both sets of tables, it’s interesting that the Scandinavian countries have lower ratings of daily happiness than the countries in the first table. In fact, Niger, Burundi and Comoros all have the same level of daily happiness as the five Scandinavian countries. In fact there is no overlap between both sets of tables (although Iceland is a Scandinavian country).
Ask students to think about how it is possible for people to be overall happy from day to day, and yet the majority of people aren’t happy. Or you can put it the other way, why do some countries have a lot of happy people, and yet overall they aren’t very happy.
I find this part of the lesson is hit or miss. Sometimes students can discuss these tables for half an hour without stopping and sometimes they just read them and have nothing to say.
How Do you Measure Happiness
Now you can get into some interesting questions. Have students look back at the survey. Ask them to categorize what aspects of life the questions are asking about. I.E. the first two questions ask about money or standard of living. Question three asks about your work. Questions four – six ask about your mood. Seven and eight about family and friends. Question nine asks about your overall life and ten about your hopes for the future.
Ask if these measures really test happiness or not. What other measures or questions might you ask someone to find out if they are happy? Can happiness be measured at all?
To wrap up, have students share what makes them most happy. You could have them just name something like, “my girlfriend” or “yummy food” or have them tell a short story about the happiest moment of their lives.
There’s a lot of potential extension to this lesson.
1) IELTS preparation: Have students take the Happiest and Least Happy Countries handout home and write an essay analyzing the data. This is a great way to prepare for Task 1 on the Writing section of the IELTS test.
2) The Happiest Day of My Life: Ask students to write a story of the happiest day in their lives, real or imagined.
3) Survey Activity: Let students design their own survey to test happiness. Have them interview each other or their family and friends outside of class and make a table of the results. They can even do a short written summary of their results. Let them make presentations in class.
4) Web Research: Direct students to the Gallup Trends site: http://www.gallup.com/poll/trends.aspx
There they can find the results of polls done on a lot of different topics. Have them pick a topic they are interested in and summarize what the poll data shows. You can also tell them that they have to research the trend in at least one other source to make a more comprehensive report. You might also want to pick a few trends for them because there are some polls on controversial issues like abortion.
5) Happiness and the Law Have students read A New Measure of Well Being from the New York Times, or an excerpt. Ask students if they agree with the idea that the government should consider happiness when it makes laws and policies? How important is happiness of the people to the government?