Link Between Happiness & Well-being: The Work of Happiness Scientists in Singapore

18 October 2020
Feature

SPEN spoke with Sha-en Yeo, Founder of Happiness Scientists, to learn more about the impact of her organization, her work with schools and parents, and challenges she has faced along the way. She shares with us how the principles of Positive Education can play a significant role in helping us overcome setbacks, and lastly shares her recent online work on Positivity and Resilience.

Is happiness of any significance at all? Over the years, there have been several myths surrounding happiness in the workplace, such as happiness in organizations encourages laziness. Contrary to these beliefs, evidence-based research demonstrates that on average, happy employees are 50% more motivated, more than twice committed and are 30% more productive than unhappy employees. Research also suggests that being happy helps workers better manage stress by lowering the blood pressure and boosting the immune system.

In schools, research shows that when students are happy, they are better able to solve problems, are more open to critical thinking and reasoning, and their focus is more in tune. Another study demonstrated that life satisfaction and academic performance seem to have a reciprocal influence on each other. This means that happier students are more likely to have better grades, and better grades in turn enable students to achieve their dreams and life satisfaction. It is this evidence that has given birth to organizations like Happiness Scientists, which work with organizations to provide speaking, training and consultancy services to support happiness for leaders, employees and teams, and also work with schools to help empower students develop their strengths, build critical resilience skills and thrive in and beyond school.

Motivation behind the Set-up of Happiness Scientists

Happiness Scientists was founded in 2019 because Sha-en recognized, through her own experiences, that well-being is fundamental. Having worked with both students & adults experiencing mental health issues, she saw how much effort and resources were required to help them get back on their feet. In her mind, there was a key question: How can these students be given tools or strategies earlier on in life, so that when challenges hit, instead of crumbling, they would be better able to navigate and respond positively? In other words, can we proactively empower them with strategies to better cope with the challenges in their life, so they can ultimately thrive in life? These questions led Sha-en to apply for the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) programme at the University of Pennsylvania, where she learnt first-hand from the researchers about the science of well-being and happiness.

It was there that she began to understand that well-being isn’t a bonus, or something to be taken lightly. In fact, well-being is something fundamental. Furthermore, there were concrete, practical & effective strategies everyone could learn and apply in order to be happier.

Says Sha-en, “I deeply believe that every human being can live their best possible life. By sharing the research & tools from the field of Positive Psychology, I want to empower people to take charge of their well-being, by being proactive agents in their own lives, so that they can thrive & flourish. Beyond the individual, this work extends to the companies and communities in which individuals live, work and play; and the people who help make this happen – the leaders.”

Why the name ‘Happiness Scientists’

Sha-en chose the name Happiness Scientists because she wanted it to convey the work she was doing: helping people & organizations to be happier using the science of Positive Psychology. “We are in the business of positive transformation of lives - both at the individual and organizational level. Through training, consulting & program development, we help our clients understand what is needed to create a positive culture in schools and workplaces”.

Happiness Scientists has help schools with beginning & sustaining their Positive Education journey. From getting clear on why they want to take on Positive Education in their school, to teacher training on Positive Education concepts, supporting the core team as they get started on driving the journey, and consulting on their lesson plans. In some schools, Sha-en helped them develop their own Positive Education framework that is aligned with the principles of Positive Psychology, and their own School Mission & Vision. This helps with buy-in and alignment right from the beginning. By working closely with different parties in the school, they make sure that Positive Education is embedded within the school and is not just a once-off program.

To ensure that it is a whole-school approach, Sha-en engages the parents (in partnership with the schools) through parenting talks, on the Positive Education topics, so that they can practice the strategies at home. Says, Sha-en, “It is important that we also convey similar messages to the parents and stakeholders. When parents understand the value of Positive Education, and support the school, it is a win-win for both the school and homes.”

Impact of the Work of Happiness Scientists

Since the inception of the organization, schools have reported better results on staff & student climate surveys, discipline cases have reduced and student behaviors (that can be measured) have also improved. Sha-en has also observed an increase in the number of parents responding to parent-teacher meetings and coming to the school. Another success for Happiness Scientists has been becoming a recognized center for Positive Education in Singapore. The teachers we work with have reported feeling happier in their workplaces and voluntarily taking more initiative to design student programs. Students also have reported that they have found a greater sense of belonging, become more confident and mindful, and also adopted a growth mindset (as can be observed in some case studies).

Challenges Faced

In the earlier part of the circuit break, at first, Sha-en said that it felt frustrating to be at home with her two daughters for so many hours. There were so many new things the children had to learn, and as parents, she and her husband had to work around these. “It can be very easy to feel negative when there are so many changes, so instead of continuing to stay frustrated, I decided to focus on what I could be grateful for. As a family we sat down and shared some of the good things that are happening as a result of circuit breaker. For example, we were grateful to have more time together as a family. We were grateful to have more time to exercise now that we didn’t have to commute to work. We were grateful for being healthy. Doing the gratitude exercise really put things back into perspective”!

Professionally, during the circuit breaker, Happiness Scientists also started getting quite a number of cancellations and postponements. In the beginning, it felt a little unnerving and disappointing that they had several projects in the pipeline and suddenly they vanished. However, Sha-en tapped on the 3 Ps in Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism:

o Permanence: This situation will not be permanent, and when the situation stabilizes, the projects will return. Thinking this way made her feel less worried, and she just focused on what she could do in the few months e.g. redoing the website, writing a Positive Education implementation book for schools.

o Personalize: Instead of taking things personally, she recognized that this was a result of the external environment. Also, she saw that other people in the same industry (training, speaking) were also experiencing something very similar. That prevented her from feeling too bad about the situation.

o Pervasiveness: While the cancellations affected cashflow & caused some stress, she knew that it didn’t have to affect her family relationships, or health or other aspects of her life. In fact, she spent much more time exercising as she had more time on her hands and could get to know her kids & husband better because they were all at home!

Knowing the 3 Ps thus allowed her to weather the challenging period of the circuit breaker.

Positivity and Resilience

Sha-en also took the opportunity to set up a Facebook group on Positivity, Hope & Resilience During Covid-19 in response to many friends asking her how to maintain positivity during this challenging time. She would post uplifting messages and information to encourage people to focus on what they can do, instead of what they cannot do. People can share their challenges or current situation they are facing on the platform. Currently, there are almost 600 members.

Another project she worked on was a collaborative book, together with a few fellow speakers from the Asia Professional Speakers Singapore (APSS). The writers were inspired to put together some tips and uplifting messages to support their clients and the people in their circle of influence. The title of the e-book is:  “Connected Over Video Isolation Distancing: 19 Articles to help you succeed in Difficult Times”. Currently Sha-en is working on her first Positive Education book “A Journey of School-Wide Implementation of Positive Education” which will be published as an e-book in October 2020.

To find out more about Happiness Scientists, please visit their website at https://happinessscientists.com/

To access the e-book, “Connected Over Video Isolation Distancing: 19 Articles to help you succeed in Difficult Times”, please download it here: https://happinessscientists.com/product/covid-19-e-book

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