Conversations With Teens
On happiness (plus poetry and books)
This week, I had an interesting conversation with some teenagers.
For those of you who read my last post, I’ve been spending more time than I ever thought possible with a group of seven-year-olds. But this week I went back to the familiar territory of teens.
I teach a class called English Communication - it’s basically a relaxed atmosphere for students to practice talking in English - no grammar or grades, just communicating. For those of you familiar with teens, this is actually something many of them find difficult, even in their mother tongue!
When I first started the class, I went through with them what communication is, why it’s important, and why, perhaps, they might need to practice it. Thankfully, most have been open to the idea.
Because of my other ‘emergency’ teaching gigs recently, I haven’t spent as much time with these two groups as I’d like. I’ve handed the classes over to others, hoping the structure I’d set up at the start would be good enough for them to continue with substitutes and stand-ins. It seems to be the case. A small win!
This week the topic was ‘Happiness.’ It’s something I have a mixed relationship with (in my experience, striving to be happy can mean ignoring important feelings and emotions) but I thought it worth exploring with these teens - many of whom look so depressed it’s a wonder they’re not crawling into the classroom with the weight of their worlds squashing them.
I wrote this quote, from the Dalai Lama, on the board: Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.
My intro went along the lines of this: Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world for the fourth year in a row. The Dalai Lama suggests here that happiness is something we can achieve by doing things. What are your thoughts?
Some of them were surprised about Finland and the ranking. One whole class had never heard of the Dalai Lama. I’d thought everyone in the world knew who the Dalai Lama was! How wrong I was!
After a brief whole-class discussion (plus an explanation about who the Dalai Lama is) I gave them question cards for them to talk about in smaller groups. Things like, “Can money bring you happiness?” “Who is the happiest person you know? Describe them.” “At what age are people the happiest? Why do you think so?” These sorts of questions usually get them discussing quite well, and with a bit of prompting and help in translating the odd word here or there, their conversations can be in-depth and interesting.
I kind of just float around, listen and throw in the odd question now and then to get them talking a bit more.
Some discussed money and happiness - most agreed money gives you options and choices that can lead to happiness, but there’s a point where it can tip and become a burden. Some remembered times as children that were funny and happy in hindsight (but scary at the time - interesting how the brain works). Some considered the brief feeling of happiness when you buy something and how fleeting that is (fleeting was a new word for most of them).
Something that interested me was their thoughts of life during this pandemic.
I asked one small group about their thoughts of life between pre-COVID and now. A year in the life of a 15-year-old is a relatively long time. Things can change monthly in their development and attitudes.
One student answered the following: I’ve had time to get to know myself and my family. I was so busy with all the other things, I’ve found it really good to focus more on myself. I actually prefer life now.
This was not what I’d expected!
It prompted others in the group to open up a little, and many felt the same way. One student said life hadn’t changed much at all. But for most of them, this strange, limited life has meant they can slow down, not feel pressure to constantly be on the go, and perhaps (shock, horror!) get to know their families a little better.
Of course, not all families are the same. There are many young people whose home lives are so stressful they’d perhaps prefer their pre-COVID lives, but for many in this group of teens, having fewer options socially, fewer activities, plus some time homeschooling, has meant a slower pace of life and a chance to reflect on who they are without the peer pressure.
What an amazing opportunity for reflection for young people at a time where we have never been so connected, distracted, and screen-obsessed.
At the end of the class they ‘happily’ left, wishing me a nice weekend, perhaps carrying with them the words of the Dalai Lama.
All Things Poetry
The whole month of April is National Poetry Month. Maybe it should be called International Poetry Month but it is an initiative of the Academy of American Poets, so ‘national’ it is. Despite not being American or living in the US, it’s hard for a poet to resist reading and writing poetry every day for a whole month!
I have been writing up a storm of poetry so far - using prompts and ideas from accounts I follow on Instagram plus a publication I write for on Medium called The POM.
I’m also writing and posting on Instagram, including this tricube poem (maths and poetry combined!), inspired by nature. What is a tricube poem? Three stanzas, three lines each, three syllables each line. Tri!
I also wrote a poem called I Rise, Repeat for a prompt on Instagram (the top image). It starts:
Sun glows, over
A tree-covered horizon.
Reach my morning-head,
You can read the whole poem here.
Since I started my poetic journey a few years ago, I’ve connected with so many wonderful poets. Arjan Tupan, now based just outside Paris, is one of those people. He’s interviewed me about my poetry and creative process, plus he responds to any poetic challenges I throw out there, including his latest called Lost Little Dragon, a tricube poem. Consider signing up for his Tripple Effect newsletter. His poetry is lovely, he writes about the food of Europe too, all in his non-native English!
If you haven’t yet read The Overstory by Richard Powers, I highly recommend it. It will have you reconnecting with plants, forests and all living things through a wonderful collection of characters (it also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019).
Thanks again for joining me here!
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Until next time!