(by Richard Wiseman)

59 SecondsKnowing how busy we all are, Professor Wiseman set himself the task of summarising a huge amount of accumulated Psychological knowledge in ten short chapters, the summaries of which one can read in 59 seconds flat! Topics covered include ‘Happiness’, ‘Attraction’, ‘Personality’ but also ‘Creativity’, ‘Motivation’ and ‘Persuasion’. Readers are not disappointed.

Looking at ‘Happiness’ first, surely there is nothing wrong with using activities which both help the students’ English and make them happier into the bargain? On p. 20 we are introduced to a rather unusual diary writing task, in which students are asked to think back to great times in their past, reflect of the many things they can be grateful for, and imagine fabulous times in the future. Putting things into perspective and creating a healthy ‘narrative’ about your life has been found to make people considerably happier.

The section on ‘Happiness’ contains some amazing, ready-to-use activities for the ELT classroom. In a task which would warm the hearts of all humanist educators (p. 30), psychologists got groups of children to write nice things about each other and present their classmate with their ‘plateful of praise’. Not only does this contribute to overall feelings of wellbeing, it has the additional advantage of boosting class cohesion.

There are implications for teachers in almost all chapters. In the one on ‘Persuasion’, Wiseman quotes a study in which four charity boxes were placed in large stores (p. 70). Each one bore a different message. The most successful one was ‘Every penny helps’ (62% of all takings!) Researchers thought that people often refrained from giving as they thought their contribution would not make a difference and the message countered this. Could it be that our students feel the same? I believe that if we get them to do little things, this might lead them to try harder later.

‘Liking’ is of course a crucial component of persuasion. On p. 52 Wiseman reminds us of the advice of Dale Carnegie: ‘to increase your popularity, just express a genuine interest in others’ (funnily enough, it does not have to be genuine; if we keep on faking it, the ‘genuineness’ comes later!)  This is a good reminder for us that so-called ‘humanistic’ activities are not just for the learners; students do appreciate it if we find out things about them and we take the trouble to ask them how their sick dog is doing…

And speaking of ‘Liking’, here is an amazing discovery (p. 177) – people bond more readily when they share negative attitudes than when they share positive ones! So next time your students heap insults on the referee who awarded that penalty against the Greek national team, do not forget to chip in with a couple yourself… 🙂