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“When Students Are Inspired, They and Their Teachers Are Happier.”

“When Students Are Inspired, They and Their Teachers Are Happier.”

Happiness interview: Andrew Mangino.

I first met Andrew Mangino through email, when he wrote to tell me about his extremely ambitious, thought-provoking new venture, The Future Project, of which he's Co-Founder and President. The Future Project is a project "to unite young Americans in dynamic partnerships to build projects that change the world." It will launch in the fall in high schools in New York, New Haven, and Washington, D.C., and will pair students in urban public high schools with young professionals and students at nearby colleges and grad schools. Together, in partnerships and teams, they'll spend a year building a passion-inspired project.

Andrew, former Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Daily News and speechwriter for the Attorney General, has thrown himself into this new project with enormous zeal. We had the chance to meet in person a few weeks ago, and I was very interested to hear how the project was going -- and thrilled to hear that The Happiness Project had played a part in helping the founders craft their organization. For one thing, we share the word "project." (As does my friend Debbie Stier, with her Perfect Score Project about studying for the SAT. Projects for all!)

The Future Project has a lot to do with happiness, conceived broadly, and I was interested to hear Andrew's ideas about his own happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Andrew: Turning up the speakers to maximum volume. Turning off the lights. Grabbing anything in sight that resembles a conductor's wand, whether a pretzel rod or pen. And blasting a John Williams film score… Jurassic Park's end credits, Indiana Jones, The Cowboys, Hook, Sugarland Express, Superman, ET, Star Wars, JAWS… while conducting to the air until the final beat. Unless you throw out your shoulder in the process (which I can report from experience is not happiness!), you will feel alive, inspired, and connected to a force bigger than yourself when a great symphony orchestra is trumpeting a magnificent fanfare about the triumph of good over evil. Try it at home! (And let us know what happens.)

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
After re-reading Ben Franklin's Autobiography after college, I decided it was time to start. Given the connection between balance and happiness, I decided that it would be a recipe for happiness to focus always on the six fundamental dimensions of life, three personal -- body, mind, and spirit -- and three global: environment, work, and the universe.

Every month, I try (key word!) to set a personal vision for each dimension, and I track progress on the "Life Chart" I designed. This is a structure within which you can get very creative, e.g., "I have read 422 pages of the writings of Ben Franklin," "I have found a community organization to help out with," "I have run to the Lincoln Memorial and back six times a week," "I have mastered the art of sun salutations," "I have transformed my room to evoke New York City in the 1950s." Every day, my challenge is to take a little step toward the big vision in the three personal dimensions, and every week, in the three global dimensions. If I do, I get a check. There is no incentive outside of that. Every day is a new challenge with its own potential rewards. The goal is to be inspired, not simply motivated, to be in situations consistent with what brings happiness -- as well as constantly learning and growing, which seem to matter as much as anything in sustaining happiness.

It can be hard to keep up, but the power of intention is almost magical!

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
As devastating as the circumstances surrounding it were, I often listen to the late Ted Kennedy describe his brother Robert at his funeral: "I dream things that never were and ask why not." There is something happy-inducing about having the opportunity to be alive today and to keep asking that question RFK often did. That's what "Bobby" would be calling on us to do if he were still here.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Staying up too late! I love the night -- always have! But until we start going to work from 9 PM to 6 AM, I think -- well, my mom tells me (I have an e-mail in my inbox from her now) -- that I need to kick the habit. If there were a happiness soup, I often imagine that the base would be a full night of uninterrupted sleep (perhaps with light John Williams music playing in the background). No matter your chosen spices, sleep is the starting point for happiness -- I'm convinced of that!

How can we usher in a new era of happiness (and inspiration) in America's schools?
I had to include this question because it's the one I think about every day!

Our team at The Future Project believes that just as there is an achievement gap, there is also an inspiration deficit in our schools. When students (and teachers, administrators, custodians, coaches, and parents) are not inspired, they are not happy -- at least not as happy as they could be! Nor do they learn well; reform, we believe, must be built on a foundation of inspiration. So, we're aiming to bring about the world in which all students have found something that inspires and truly excites them, whether civil engineering, French food, botany, or the Roaring Twenties, and channeled it to improve the world around them. All before finishing high school!

There are literally millions of young Americans out there -- college students, graduate students, and young professionals -- who want to give back to education more than ever before. It's a generational phenomenon, but only Teach for America has picked up on the desire. But what about the rest of us? Who want to serve but not as teachers? Beginning in the fall, we will be pairing these volunteer Future Coaches (more applications are coming in every day! -- it's inspiring) with one underserved high-school student each and challenging them to build a project that fuses their shared interests and channels them to make a difference. Through the experience, partners become agents of change and learn the skills of the 21st Century, from empathy and teamwork to innovation and leadership. They also set powerful visions for their own lives and achieve them through self-authored benchmarks. It's a whole new paradigm of education.

Best of all, partners are part of a team of eight, with each pair also creating a Future Project. This creates an instant community of inspiration that our intention is every student can experience one day. Imagine, in other words, Teach for America meets the Peace Corps meets Big Brothers, Big Sisters... meets The Happiness Project!

Many of our goals are aligned with existing reform efforts -- end the drop-out crisis, dramatically increase graduation rates -- and we will be measuring relentlessly to ensure that we do just that. But we believe that there will be one more co of this experience: a new era of happiness in our schools. When students are inspired, they and their teachers are happier -- the world is brighter, education is relevant, and our natural curiosity is excited. And when children are happy, the rest of us can be, too!

(If you would like to support The Future Project, visit or email me directly at [email protected]. We would love your support in fundraising and finding Future Coaches in New York, New Haven, or D.C. -- and we would welcome your personal leadership in the project if you are inspired to take up the cause as your own!)

* If you'd like a signed, personalized bookplate for your copy of The Happiness Project -- or for an e-book or audio book, a signed, personalized signature card, with Paradoxes of Happiness on the back -- sign up here (faster) email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com. Feel free to ask for as many of either or both as you'd like, for yourself or for a gift; I'll mail anywhere in the world; they're free -- and please remember to include your mailing address.

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