Ernst Fritz-Schubert, an educator who teaches classes on happiness to German elementary students, is also a member of
Compared to those in other western countries, children in Germany are healthy and well. According to rankings in the current international UNICEF comparative study on the welfare of children in industrialized countries, Germany ranks 6th. The rankings were based on living conditions such as relative poverty, health, and education. The UNICEF study also took into account children’s perception of their living conditions. On this ranking, Germany’s ranking dropped dramatically to 22nd (out of 29). Fritz-Schubert finds this, the difference between reality and perception, shocking.
“Children come into the world happy and it is our job to maintain their happiness. Above all, we must protect them from situations that produce unhappiness, such as anxiety and stress.” With the aim of helping children and teenagers develop healthy, balanced personalities, Fritz-Schubert introduced his happiness curriculum in 2007.
Happiness in Six StepsFritz-Schubert's happiness class is experience-based. Through practical exercises, students discover what is important for them, what their strengths are, and what family means to them. They draw up plans, consider how to achieve them, and work on their skills. Most important, students begin to develop a healthy self-confidence by learning how deal with success and how to cope with defeat. According to Fritz-Schubert, this process happens in six steps.
- Know Your Strengths: "I have the students take turns complimenting each other. Compliments can be as different as 'you are a good friend,' to 'you always let me copy you'," says Ernst Fritz-Schubert. "Children are natural treasure hunters. This turns them into treasure hunters of one's strengths."
- Develop a Vision: The class utilizes meditative exercises to help students recognize both their personal values and their dreams for the future. These are the tools to help them go after their hearts' desires.
- Learn to Make Decisions: Based on self-identified challenges, students are asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1-10. The process helps them identify where they are falling short and how to turn those roadblocks into skills.
- Make Plans: Students create their personalized plans and then visualize scenarios to achieve them. This teaches them to realize that plans are a process and by reflecting on their decisions, they can make smarter choices. After all, says Fritz-Schubert, "If, for example, I get on the wrong train, I do not have to stay on it until its last stop. I can get off half-way through."
- Go With the Flow: “In order to be completely focused, you have to be, above all, relaxed. You cannot be anxious or tense,” says Fritz-Schubert.
- Evaluate Yourself: Finally, step back and make a candid review of how you are doing on the first five steps. Reflection is essential to Fritz-Schubert. “It is important to separate the person from the event so that, for example, you can learn how interpret small defeats as something else – motivation.”
Learning Outside of School
Because the aim is to increase a student’s quality of life, the lessons follow a holistic approach meant to address life outside school walls as much within them. “Students are here to learn how to trust themselves,” says Dominik Dallwitz-Wegner who taught a happiness class for a year in Hamburg. Being real plays a big role in building trust. Through classroom exercises, good habits and a positive outlook are formed. “I greeted every single student with a handshake when he or she walked into my room,” says Dallwitz-Wegner. “This was one of the nicest experiences they reported, to be treated as individuals.”
Feedback on the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Happiness classes are now offered at more than 100 schools and kindergartens in Germany and Austria. It has seen a rise in popularity in sixth forms (graduating high school students) where it is offered as an elective class.