positive psychology

What do children (and teachers) CRAVE?


Undergirding our approach to schooling is a new understanding of what people are "New", that is, for schooling. We're not pretending to promulgate some hidden secret of humanity — rather, we're drawing directly from social science (especially positive psychology and evolutionary psychology) and the humanities (especially literature, philosophy, and history).

But compared with the assumptions of human beings that modern schooling is built on, our understanding might come as a radical re-imagining of what it means to be a human.

We're grounding our school in the beautiful basics of human nature — the things we all know to be true, but which aren't presently brought into school much.

So, our question: what do people crave?

Below is a loose draft of what I see as the innate human drives that are most useful for a learning community.

Here's the promise: if we tap into what people (students and teachers alike) crave, we'll create an education that's unstoppable.


We crave mission, purpose. We want to align our efforts with some lofty goal. We want to be inspired by others who have already done.


We crave to accomplish hard things, to grow, to progress toward our goals. We want to be challenged. We want the pride of knowing we've attained something.

Real relationships.

We want to know and be known — we want to exult with others, and suffer with others.


We want to lose ourselves in our work, immersing ourselves in activities that require our total attention.


We want to marvel at the hugeness, ancientness, and complexity of the world. We want to be overwhelmed by reality.


We want to crack up, chortle, guffaw, and giggle. We want to titter, twitter, snigger, and snicker. We want to smile broadly, and dissolve into laughter.


When we descend into the dark corners of reality, we want to believe that it gets better. We want to have reasons to aspire that bad situations can be turned around.


We want (some of us less than others!) to be calm, to achieve tranquility. We want to, at times, be mellow.


We want to be thanked, and to thank others. We want to be bowled over by another's compassion, to be indebted to all those who have built up the foundation of our flourishing.


We want to, every once in a while, be avalanched by delight — to be buried in glee.


We want to feel affection and warmth toward other people — especially with our family and friends — and know that others feel the same way about us. We also want to feel fond of the things around us.


We want to affect the world that we don't "log out" of at the end of the day. We want to know we're making a difference in the world we all share.

Status & safety.

We want to be respected for our accomplishments — and to be safe and accepted even when we fail.


We want to become really good at something, and exercise control in a domain.

Body joy.

We want to tap into all our senses, press our bodies to their limits, and be exhausted.


We want to feel the moral upwelling of jaw-dropping acts of compassion, forgiveness, or excellence. We want our pictures of human potential to be stretched, and admire those who have stretched them.


We want to live in the knowledge that there's more to be explored.


We're drawn to fights, disputes, and quarrels, and want to see them reconciled.

Beauty and order.

We want to observe, and embody, aesthetic excellence.


We want to know things — not just shallowly, but deeply and richly. We even want to understand things when that understanding might cause us pain.

Our epic quest, at Schools for Humans: how can we build a school on these? How can (literally) every piece of a curriculum tie in to one or more of these desires? How can thirteen years of schooling fulfill these cravings? And how can we make this a reality not just for students, but also for teachers?

Again, these are an initial, loose list. Can you think of any other desires that ought maybe be on here? Would you suggest we nix any of these?

If so, we'd love your feedback! Please post your suggestions below, or send them to me at brandon.hendrickson@gmail.com.

Schools for human flourishing?

Kids, it turns out, don't typically derive much happiness from school. Alert the media!

More seriously: can we reverse this? 

The evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray writes, in an article I linked to from yesterday's post:

A few years ago, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeremy Hunter conducted a study of happiness and unhappiness in public school students, in 6th through 12th grades.

Each of the 828 participants, from 33 different schools in 12 different communities across the country, wore a special wristwatch for a week, which was programmed to provide a signal at random times between 7:30 am and 10:30 pm.

Whenever the signal went off participants filled out a questionnaire indicating where they were, what they were doing, and how happy or unhappy they were at the moment.

The lowest levels of happiness by far (surprise, surprise) occurred when children were at school, and the highest levels occurred when they were out of school and conversing or playing with friends.

Time spent with parents fell in the middle of the happiness-unhappiness range.

Average happiness increased on weekends, but then plummeted from late Sunday afternoon through the evening, in anticipation of the coming school week.

It's nice to have what we've all suspected quantified: kids (at least in middle and high school) don't much like school.

Can we reverse this?

For years, I've been nigh-obsessed with the positive psychology movement — the group of researchers who've been trying to understand not just how people get sick, but how they get well. 

These researchers are working to mend the world.

I've been a fan of positive psychology for years, reading scores of books, and re-vamping all of my thinking along its lines.

And one of my goals — one of my mostly secret goals — has been that, as we re-invent every aspect of the curriculum to cultivate love, mastery, and meaning, we can create schools that cultivate well-being.

That we can take a major dent out of human suffering.

That we can create schools for human flourishing. 

I've written a little about that in the past, but I've been holding back on talking about it lately. To aim for well-being seemed too grand, too unachievable.

Well: nuts to that! 

I'm launching a class on human well-being this Friday, and so will be swimming in positive psychology for the next eight months. As we move on, I'll be incorporating more positive psychology into what I write here —

look for it!