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Joy: An emotional intelligence exploration

Dr. Sarah D. Hraha, Director of Emotional Intelligence

In many of our emotional intelligence, lessons we focus on learning about our emotions: recognizing them and understanding what causes them, as well as naming, expressing, and regulating them. Students at PBS learn that they can have a range of emotions at any given time, and instead of labeling them as negative or positive, they know that emotions often lie within a range of pleasantness and unpleasantness.

As with many people, joy is one of our more desired emotions. But, what makes us happy? What brings joy to our lives? We examine this very question in our EI lesson that focuses on the emotion of joy. During the lesson, we engage in an activity where the children are provided with sticky notes on which they are instructed to write or draw things that make them happy. One after another, the children post these notes on the whiteboard in their classroom until the space is almost entirely filled with colorful squares of paper displaying a delightful array of the things that make them happy. It’s wonderful to observe the children as they engage in this exercise. Over a period of about 7 minutes, the level of positivity rises in the room; the climate shifts as the board fills with these moments of joy.

We learn from this activity that just thinking about something or someone that makes us feel joy, actually causes us to experience joy in that moment. While this emotion is one that we wish we could experience most of the time, that just isn’t a realistic expectation. Our students learn that all of their emotions are not only acceptable, but provide us with very useful information. Sometimes, though, if we feel sad or angry or scared, we can use some of our tools – such as thinking about something that makes us happy – to help us shift to an emotion that feels more pleasant.

Similarly, expressing gratitude can help us experience more joy. I love the video below because it provides useful information on happiness from current research and offers some simple activities to generate more joy in our daily lives.

Dr. Sarah D. Hraha came to PBS in 2017 as the school’s first Director of Emotional Intelligence with decades of experience in elementary classrooms and 15 years’ experience in educational leadership, teacher education and consulting, and social–emotional learning curricular design. Sarah earned her bachelor’s degree in education from National-Louis University and both her master’s in counseling and her doctorate in clinical psychology from Adler University.


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