On pleasure and happiness

There are times when teaching goes really well. My students are motivated and enthusiastic. They diligently complete all the tasks I designed for them, and they appreciate my creative ideas. The truth is that most of this just happens and I have little control over the situation. The positive simply occurs and it makes me feel happy. Deep inside I wish I could experience the intoxicating feelings of success every day but …. 
…. there are times when teaching sucks. My students are tired and they look bored. They refuse to do the tasks I ask them to do and they explicitly show their reluctance. Again, I have little control over this. Negativity comes uninvited, no matter how much I have prepared for the lesson or how desperately I try to change the situation on the spot. My plans fall through, which makes me feel sad and frustrated. I hate the painful feelings that accompany failure, and I secretly wish I could avoid them completely. 
And there are times when teaching doesn’t go really well. My students don’t respond to my questions and, overall, they are terribly passive throughout the lesson. Sometimes they even say things which I’d rather not hear. However, this doesn’t get me down. Somehow, I can handle the lifeless atmosphere easily and my students’ negative frame of mind is not a problem. This is a scenario I neither like nor dislike. It happens and although it seems I have no control over the situation, I actually do. The control comes within.  
The first situation above is what most people (and teachers) would call sheer happiness. The teacher is excited because things are going according to plan. However, in the book I’m currently reading, Dalai Lama calls this state of mind pleasure, not happiness, because he distinguishes between pleasures that depend on the circumstances and genuine happiness, a state of mind that endures life’s ups and downs. 
Having said that, the first situation can never last for long because our happiness is dependent on external sources – our students’ state of mind, the equipment we use, the weather, etc. In other words, this kind of happiness will inevitably lead to unhappiness (or emptiness) because our students are not the same every day and the circumstances vary from minute to minute. On the other hand, unhappiness won’t last forever either. At first sight, this sounds like good news, but going through an unhappy state of mind is rarely pleasant. We may try to convince ourselves that this period is only temporary, but who wants to feel pain? 
So the third state of mind seems to be the one we should strive for. Regardless of what happens outside us, we should stay detached. I believe it’s important not to take things personally because our students’ intention is not to make us feel unhappy. Although they do bug us at times, I dare say they do so quite unintentionally, and the only thing they crave, like all human beings, is happiness. It means then that it’s not them who actually make us feel all the negative emotions; it is us, the teachers, who are to blame for the way we feel. 
Dalai Lama says that real happiness is determined more by the state of one’s mind than by circumstances or events. Now, logically, if you can’t change your students and the circumstances, you need to change yourself. Wouldn’t it be liberating to find the source of happiness that would be absolutely independent of external conditions? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to train one’s mind for happiness? Wouldn’t it be fabulous if this type of training was a compulsory part of teacher training courses? Imagine how amazing each lesson could be! Imagine how genuinely happy ours students would eventually be! 🙂 
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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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2 Responses to On pleasure and happiness

  1. Hi Hana!
    If only scenarion one was the main 'teaching' atmosphere. Wouldn't that be fantastic? Then again, a class is a mesh of different personalities, so we deal the deck we get. Strive for the best, get what we can.

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for reading, Joanna. Yes, scenario one would be fantastic but let's be realists … 🙂 I'm obviously grateful for all the moments of pleasure, even though they are temporary and dependent on external forces. But I'm surprised that the negative doesn't always affect me and that sometimes I can enjoy things no matter how flawed they appear. That's why I treasure this state of mind more than the others.

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