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International Day of Happiness

Overview of the session

  • To elaborate on the concept of happiness
  • To introduce World Happiness Day
  • To practice critical thinking
  • To develop small scale class research

This session can be easily tailored to meet the demands of different classes with different levels of language proficiency. This one has been designed for a 90-minute coeducational class with about 20 intermediate students and focuses on the basics of conducting a study.

In order to do this session, the teacher may wish to review the concept of research and data collection first. And if the class is ready to write then the concepts of reporting the findings and discussion can also be included. To talk about the concept of discussion we need to concentrate on critical thinking and providing good evidence.

Lesson plan

  1. Begin the class by introducing World Happiness Day.
  2. Very briefly seek the students’ opinion about the importance of this day.
  3. Read the short passage on the concept of the day:
  4. Invite all the students in the class to think of two or three things (depending on the number of students) that make them very happy.
  5. Put their answers on the board. If the class is coeducational, clarify which options are mentioned by boys and which by girls. (Probably there will be some overlaps.) Try to make this exciting and fun. (If the class is not coed, then categorize, for example age wise, or nationality wise, and if none apply, then only put the data on the board and later compare against some data from another source.)
  6. Prepare a table to put the collected data in it. Help the students to understand what the data is about.
  7. You may wish to teach them how to make a pie chart with the information collected.Example: In order to give you a taste of what this means here is an example. The data is hypothetical. Imagine that these are the points raised by your 20 students (12 girls and 8 boys) concerning what makes them happy.
    Girls 12
    Boys 8


    Listening to music Shopping for clothes Giving gifts Walking in the rain Sports Passing exams Listening to the sea Sleeping under the stars Drinking coffee
    girls 5 5 3 2 2 5 1 1 0
    boys 7 1 0 0 3 3 1 0 1

    On the whole 40 answers have been provided.

    Since the number of boys and girls in your class is not equal, you need to change this frequency to percentages:

    Listening to music Shopping for clothes Giving gifts Walking in the rain Receiving gifts Passing exams Listening to the sea Sleeping under the stars Drinking coffee
    girls 20% 20% 7.5%
    boys 17.5% 1% 0

    You may also wish to help the students draw a graph or a pie chart for the collected information.

    You may point out that based on the findings:

    There are certain activities that both boys and girls believe make them happy. You may also want to highlight the activities with the highest frequency.

  8. Try to help the students go beyond results and interpret the data. This can be done by they brainstorming their thoughts and trying to find a justification for their thoughts.Here are some points to help students reflect:
    1. Look at the broader picture. Why do you think these points have been picked by the sample population? Provide evidence.
    2. Why do you think some activities are more enjoyed by girls? Give logical evidence, based on some reliable information or a sound piece of evidence.
    3. Why do you assume some are enjoyed only by boys?

    (What questions you ask will depend on the way you have categorized the responses.)

  9. At this point refer the students to the introduction of second reading passage, which is a report on World happiness day: the students time to skim through the introduction of the passage and study the tittles. The introduction provides some general information on the happiest nations of the world, the criteria based on which the countries have been selected and some more general information on the level of happiness of certain countries. (It also gives the students some idea about the content of the report, which may make the students eager to go and study the report or at least parts of it in their own time.)
  10. Invite the students to read the section on Norway and the section titled Happiness is both social and personal. Discuss the points raised with the students making sure that everybody has understood the passage. Focus on the key variables used by the report to select the level of happiness. (If there was time ask them to compare and contrast the data collected in the class with the existing literature. Ask them to work in groups. Then encourage them to think of some sound argumentation concerning the reasons behind these similarities and differences.)

    You may wish to once again clarify that discussion is mainly about the interpretation of the results of the study. It may be built on some assumption, but still there is the need for providing evidence and/or argumentation.

    The Part of the passage to be read

    Norway tops the global happiness rankings for 2017

    Norway has jumped from 4th place in 2016 to 1st place this year, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland in a tightly packed bunch. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Their averages are so close that small changes can re-order the rankings from year to year. Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices. It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies. To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance, all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings.

    All of the other countries in the top ten also have high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time – income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. Here too there has been some shuffling of ranks among closely grouped countries, with this year’s rankings placing Finland in 5th place, followed by the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia and Sweden tied for the 9th position, having the same 2014-2016 score to three decimals.

    Happiness is both social and personal

    This year’s report emphasizes the importance of the social foundations of happiness (see Chapter 2). This can be seen by comparing the life experiences between the top and bottom ten countries in this year’s happiness rankings. There is a four-point happiness gap between the two groups of countries, of which three-quarters is explained by the six variables, half due to differences in having someone to count on, generosity, a sense of freedom, and freedom from corruption. The other half of the explained difference is attributed to GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy, both of which, as the report explains, also depend importantly on the social context.

    However 80% of the variance of happiness across the world occurs within countries. In richer countries the within-country differences are not mainly explained by income inequality, but by differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships: the biggest single source of misery is mental illness (see Chapter 5). Income differences matter more in poorer countries, but even their mental illness is a major source of misery.

    Work is also a major factor affecting happiness (see Chapter 6). Unemployment causes a major fall in happiness, and even for those in work the quality of work can cause major variations in happiness.

  11. Finish the class by seeking the students’ opinion about having a World Happiness Day again. If they think it is necessary, then ask them to reflect what can be done to make it a memorable day. If they disagree with having such a day, then encourage them to provide reasons. This could also be given as homework and then discussed during the next session.


Options for homework

  1. Reading:
    Read the report on World Happiness
    Depending on the language proficiency of the students you may pick parts of report to be read by the students. If different people/groups have been assigned different sections, then they may present the summary of what they have read to the class during the next session.
  2. Writing:
    Essay/Paragraph topic: If you want to make a person or a group of people happy, who would they be and what would you do?
  3. Vocabulary:
    Think of/ look for as many words as you can that are synonymous with “happy” or relate to happiness in some way. (e.g. elated and smile)
  4. Collect data from people outside the classroom concerning what makes them happy and prepare the results in the form of a table or chart. Then write a short paragraph about your findings.
  5. Ask the students to make PowerPoint slides of the main idea discussed in the the lesson. It can be on the concept of World Happiness Day and/or data collection and discussion.
  6. The students may be invited to prepare or select a picture/photo for the World Happiness Day and share it with their classmates. Then the class may vote for the best image.


This lesson is one of the 4 winning entries for our Special Days Competition 2017. It was created by Mandana Arfa-Kaboodvand. Mandana has a PhD in TESOL from the University of Exeter, UK. She has been a language teacher for almost 30 years. She was a university lecturer in Tehran, Iran. At present she works as a senior lecturer at Westminster International University in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Her main areas of interest are language teacher education; teacher development; language and culture, and teaching English to YLs. Email address: [email protected].

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