In a Living Wisdom School classroom, feelings are noticed and dealt with without delay. Negative feelings, ignored or suppressed, can create an underlying current of discontent that can disturb the harmony in the classroom, disrupting concentration and motivation.
The photos that follow show how Living Wisdom School second-grade teacher Kshama Kellogg helped a young student accept and transcend sad feelings at the start of the school day. The photos are not posed – they are real.
Modern science is confirming what the Indian sages discovered long ago.
Scientists at the Institute of HeartMath™ Research Center (IHM) in Boulder Creek, California are studying the effects of positive feelings such as love, compassion, and kindness on our bodies and brains. Their research supports the notion that it’s important for children’s academic success that they learn to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”
Here are some of the Institute of HeartMath findings:
Positive emotional states exert a whole-body synchronizing effect by bringing brain waves, heart rhythms, breathing, and blood-pressure oscillations into a unified, harmonious rhythm. During positive feelings, “bodily systems function with a high degree of synchronization, efficiency and harmony.”
Deliberately focusing attention in the heart while cultivating feelings of love, compassion, etc., leads to clearer thinking, calmer emotions, and improved physical performance and health, as well as increased frequency of subjective reports of spiritual experiences.
Positive, expansive feelings such as love, appreciation, and compassion promote relaxation and synchronization of the nervous system. They quiet the “arousal” (sympathetic) branch of the nervous system and activate the “relaxation” (parasympathetic) side. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for speeding up heart rate and preparing the body for action, while the parasympathetic branch governs the “relaxation response,” slowing heart rate and calming body, emotions, and brain.
Positive feelings quiet the mind, generate a sense of “self-security, peace and love,” and increase the frequency of reported feelings of “connectedness to God.”
Additionally, the researchers found that negative emotions such as anger, fear, and hatred make the heartbeat change speeds erratically—the heart literally speeds up and slows down chaotically from one beat to the next, like the random, jerky motion of a car that’s running out of gas. (See figure.)
Positive emotions such as love, compassion, and appreciation, on the other hand, make the heart beat with a harmonious, regular rhythm. During negative emotions, the heart’s irregular speed changes appear as jagged, disordered spikes, and its power output is relatively low. Simple relaxation produces a more regular rhythm. But deliberately cultivating positive emotions makes the heart beat in a steady, consistent, harmonious rhythm, reflected in the regular, sine-wave-like pattern in the figure (“Appreciation”). During positive emotions, the heart’s power output jumps by over 500% above the levels attained during negative emotions and simple relaxation. (In the figure, note the Power Spectral Density [PSD] scale in “Appreciation.”)
The Institute of HeartMath findings have begun to find practical applications in professional sports. Here is an excerpt from an article on the website of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA):
When we’re stressed or upset, it’s physically impossible to think clearly or perform at our best. This is because a disordered heart rhythm pattern sends a signal to the brain that inhibits the cortex, the higher thinking and reasoning part of the brain. On the other hand, when we are feeling confident, secure, and appreciative, our heart rhythms become smooth and even…. Smooth heart rhythm patterns send a signal to the brain that synchronizes and facilitates cortical function, speeding up our reaction times and making it easier to think clearly, perceive a bigger picture, and make better decisions.
The heart and brain communicate continually through the nervous system. Thus the heart’s powerful positive or negative, harmonizing or disruptive messages are carried instantly to the brain, where they enhance or interfere with our ability to remain cool and to concentrate. (The heart is the body’s most powerful oscillator, sending out electrical signals roughly 60 times as strong as those emitted by the brain.)
To summarize: positive, harmonious feelings enhance mental focus, calmness, health, performance, intuition, and the frequency of spiritual feelings. They increase relaxation, alpha-wave output in the brain (associated with a calm, meditative state), and synchronize heart-rhythm patterns, respiratory rhythms, and blood pressure oscillations.
When the Institute of HeartMath scientists taught simple methods for harmonizing the heart’s feelings to school children in the Washington, DC area, the children’s test scores immediately rose.
In the Living Wisdom Schools, the teachers lead the students in practicing heart-harmonizing methods every day. In the classroom and on the playground, the teachers pay extremely close attention to the quality of the children’s interactions with each other, and their mood. The teachers are trained to nurture a harmonious, safe, expansive environment that is optimized for learning.
 The basic Institute of HeartMath research is described in The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin (HarperSanFrancisco 1999), as well as in research papers on the organization’s website, www.heartmath.org.
 “Second That Emotion,” by Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., Pia Nilsson, and Lynn Marriott, downloaded from www.pga.com in 2004. Gold Digest readers voted Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott to the magazine’s list of the top 50 US golf coaches.
Most people assume that if they strive very hard to achieve success in school and at work, and if they succeed in making a lot of money, and having a prestigious job, and marrying and raising a family, they’ll be happy.
At Living Wisdom School, we practice a completely different approach. Since our first school opened in the early 1970s, we’ve realized that children do better in school when we teach them how to be happy at the start. It’s one reason our school rules begin with “Choose Happiness!”
Shawn Achor’s book is based on his research with hundreds of Harvard students and successful business leaders.
Naturally, this approach raises questions for parents, even though our students do very well in standardized testing, and in high school and college.
In fact, there’s scientific evidence that putting happiness first works very well on the job and in school.
If we’ve aroused your curiosity, we invite you to watch the following fascinating 12-minute TED Talk with Shawn Achor, author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Advantage. (You can also read the transcript.)
And here’s a bombshell article, Be More Successful: New Harvard Research Reveals a Fun Way to Do It, that was posted on the popular Barking Up the Wrong Tree website (120,000 subscribers). It’s based on an interview with Shawn Achor who summarizes his research that kids who learn to be happy do a lot better in school than those who burn themselves out with fact-cramming and studying to the test.
(For your interest, we present Shawn’s bio below.)
In this talk, given at the Dalai Lama Center, Shawn shares his findings on The Happiness Advantage for Children. (7 minutes)
Shawn Achor Bio
Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard.
Shawn has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. His research on happiness made the cover of Harvard Business Review. His TED talk is one of the most popular all time, with over 4 million views, and his lecture on PBS has been seen by millions.
Shawn teaches in the Advanced Management Program at Wharton Business School and collaborates on research with Yale and Columbia University.
Shawn graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and earned a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics. For seven years, he served as an Officer of Harvard, living in Harvard Yard and counseling students through the stresses of their first year. Though he now travels extensively, Shawn continues to conduct original research on happiness and organizational achievement in collaboration with Yale University and the Institute for Applied Positive Research.
In 2007, Shawn founded Good Think to share his findings with the world. Shawn has since lectured or researched in 51 countries, talking to CEOs in China, school children in South Africa, doctors in Dubai, and farmers in Zimbabwe.
He has spoken to the Royal Family in Abu Dhabi, doctors at St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and worked with the U.S. Department of Health to promote happiness. In 2012, Shawn helped lead the Everyday Matters campaign with the National MS Society and Genzyme, to show how happiness remains a choice for those struggling with chronic illness.
Our School Rules express our belief that children are more likely to excel academically if we, as educators, can bring the whole child into the process of learning: body, heart, will, mind, and soul. A detailed explanation of the rules follows the image. (Also see the brief school brochure below.)
Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto School Rules
Enjoy yourself. Discover that true happiness includes the happiness of others on their long journey to awareness of the unity of all things.
Practice kindness. Learn to practice kindness with one another and to recognize that in doing so you help create a loving and safe atmosphere.
Choose happiness. Learn that you have the power to choose how you will respond to life’s challenges. Learn to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Learn to control your moods and raise your energy to meet difficulties that arise.
Be a loving friend to everyone—both children and teachers. Play together across the grades. Enjoy helping younger children. Share your knowledge and receive it from others—both students and teachers.
Laugh often. Laughter and lively exchanges in the classroom help to make learning a joyful process.
Be a life-long learner. Discover the love and joy of learning for its own sake.
Trust yourself. Learn to consult your own knowledge and intuition rather than to succumb to peer pressure as you confront life’s challenges.
Use your will to create good energy. Prize perseverance and courage in the face of challenges. Embrace life moment to moment in the lessons learned, songs sung, plays performed, etc.
Find the joy within. Become aware that happiness resides within, not without. Learn to use the breath to center and calm yourself. Look to the lives of saints and sages of all religions as models in your search for true happiness.