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[The unexpected link between happiness and altruism]

Try this with your students: ask them to write down a list of things that would make them happier, then put their pens down. Professor Tali Sharot did that with her students, then she smiled and said: ‘I bet none of you listed ‘being kinder’ between ‘earning double what I do now’ and ‘more travelling’. Brilliant! – Read on… 😊

Imagine you are a university student in Vancouver, Canada. One day at the campus, a nice young guy approaches you and gives you an envelope. ‘Here’ he says ‘This is for you’. This actually happened to quite a few people on that particular day. Inside the envelope was some money (either a $ 20 bill or a $ 5 bill) along with a little note asking people to spend this money by buying something for themselves until the evening. Others got a different message; once again they got some money (either $ 20 or $ 5) but this time the note asked them to spend it on buying something for someone else. Later that day, these people were contacted by phone. Sure enough, they had spent the money as they had been asked. The big question was: how were they feeling? To find out, read on or – better still – watch this short clip:

OK – here is what they found: i) the people who had spent money on doing something for others, were much happier at the end of the day;  ii) significantly, it was the act of altruism that mattered – not how much money they had spent.

I remember watching this clip again and again and thinking to myself ‘Wow! This is amazing! Why can’t we use this in class? Students will be using the L2 and they should end up feeling quite a bit happier into the bargain! Here are two ideas:

i)      Get students in groups and ask them to brainstorm little things they could do to make someone happier (e.g. write a little ‘Thank you’ note to their mother [or to your teacher! 😊 ] or do the shopping for the old lady next door.

ii)    Ask students to choose one of the ideas, actually do it and then write a little paragraph about what it was and how the other person felt. You can put these up on the wall (or on a Padlet wall) and students can try to guess who it was that did what.

The possibilities are endless! And while you are at it, you might want to share the following Dalai Lama quote with your students ‘If you would like to be selfish, do it in a clever way […] work for the welfare of others’. Respect.

The Moral: Get students to do things for others – and talk about it in English.