I am extremely excited and proud to announce that my first ever book, Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide To Teaching Happiness was published on Thursday 6th September, 2018. A dream had finally come true! Except, the reality was that I hadn’t ever really dreamed about writing a book. Ok, so I had thought about it in the past now and then but a dream? No, not really. So, for all you budding writers out there (ones that are dreaming about it and ones that aren’t even aware you will actually write a book one day), here’s how I wrote a book about teaching happiness to children:
- My ‘quarter-life crisis’
In my late 20s, I experienced a period of acute anxiety which led to a period of depression. Up until that point, I had always been quite a positive and happy-go-lucky type of guy. This was easily one of the most difficult periods of my life but I learned something very important – nothing matters more than your physical and mental health.
- Researched what happiness is
As a result of my ‘quarter-life crisis’, I began to research the causes of anxiety and depression in order to make sense of what had happened to me. In doing so, I also learned about the key factors that contribute to good mental health (regular exercise, good diet, strong personal relationships, a strong sense of purpose, and meditation all help) and began to make changes to my life.
- Started to practice happiness
The Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready-made – it comes from your own actions.” And he’s right. Leading a happy or happier life takes action and effort. Just knowing what contributes to wellbeing doesn’t make you feel any better. So, I signed up to mindfulness courses, I took up weekly sports again, I made space for spending quality time with friends and family and I started journaling. I talked the talk, and I started to walk the walk.
A key thing that came up in my research about happiness was that happy tend to volunteer and help others. So, I signed up to become a mentor to a 9-year-old boy at risk of being kicked out of school through the charity, Chance UK. I also took up the offer of a teacher friend who was looking for a governor for the school she taught in. Both of these experiences gave my life a lot more meaning and purpose and had such a profound impact on me that I decided to retrain as a primary school teacher.
- Realised our education system is broken
Schools are generally not set up to focus on the happiness and wellbeing of their pupils as a primary concern. I learned this through mentoring (the boy I mentored had a school that showed little interest in helping him fit in there) and through my first year as a primary teacher. With such a relentless focus on academic attainment, and the need for children to make rapid progress, children’s emotional concerns are often ignored in favour of the mighty god, ‘Data’!
- Started to take positive action
Fed up with ‘the system’, I started to make changes to my classroom to integrate some of the things I was using to support my mental health and happiness. I introduced a morning meditation practice, we started exercising daily and I taught my class mini neuroscience lessons about how their brains learn and how ‘happy hormones’ affect their mood. Despite working in a challenging inner-London school, the behaviour of my class improved, their grades went up and they enjoyed being in school more.
- Learned more and spread the message
I became a passionate advocate for ‘teaching happiness and wellbeing’. I completed more courses in positive psychology, I read more books about neuroscience and happiness, and I attended conferences and talks about the science of wellbeing. Every time I learned something new, I’d make subtle tweaks to what I was doing in class. Other teachers in my school noticed the positive impact it was having on my class, so my headteacher gave me staff meeting time to share the research and ideas with my colleagues and also with parents. A charity called Action for Happiness heard about the work I was doing in schools and invited me to speak at one of their events. It happened to be an event where their patron, The Dalai Lama, was also speaking. It was definitely one of the proudest moments of my career, especially because three former pupils spoke on stage in front of the 2,500 capacity audience!
- Planned to write a book
In all of this research I was doing, I couldn’t find any books that focused on teaching happiness and wellbeing in primary schools. At the Dalai Lama event in September 2015,I promised a fellow speaker that I would write a book about teaching happiness to children. It wasn’t until World Book Day, March 2016, as my class were writing stories to go with their comic strip drawings, I took the template they were using and sketched out the chapter plan for my book.
- Wrote a book about teaching happiness to children
I then did what most people do which is procrastinate. I filed the book plan away somewhere and forgot all about it. Around November 2016, I rediscovered and thought to myself, ‘Sod it, why not?’ and I began writing the introduction. I then wrote two more chapters and got my wife to read them. My wife is a fantastic writer. She has a Masters in English. I was extremely nervous about what she would think. ‘I love it! It’s brilliant!’ was her only feedback. Having a cheerleader when you write is very helpful!
- Published a book about teaching happiness to children
It took a chance conversation with my best friend at Christmas, 2016. I told him I’d started to write a book and that I might approach Bloomsbury. ‘I know someone that works there!’ he replied and before I could procrastinate for another six months, he’d emailed his friend, told her about my book and that was it. His friend at Bloomsbury asked for a paragraph summary. She forwarded it to the commissioning editor who liked my idea and asked me to fill in their book proposal form. It got approved and then sent out for review (to see if teachers would actually buy it) and it passed that test, and then it went to the editorial board meeting. In April 2017, I signed a contract to write my book about teaching happiness to children. I submitted the finished book December 2017, a few rounds of edits in early 2018 and then my editor, Hannah, (pictured with me above) handed me my first printed copied in July 2018.
If I can do it…
So, that’s how I wrote a book about teaching happiness to children! There’s nothing special about me as a writer. Yes, I enjoy writing. Yes, I have an English degree so reading and writing was a big part of my higher education but, ultimately, I’m just a primary school teacher with a passion for teaching children how to look after themselves and each other.
If you’d like to be a writer too, my advice is: you need passion, a plan, and some luck.
Adrian Bethune‘s debut book, Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom, is out now.