Tips for Happiness and Good Mental Health with Tal Ben-Shahar

In this video, learn from author and lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar who has spent his exceptional career researching and promoting positive psychology. In the episode, Tal talks about mental health awareness and mindfulness. He explains why people need to give themselves permission to be human, the reason relationships (even long distance ones) are the number one factor in our wellbeing, and why doing something good for others is key to lifting ourselves up when challenges hit. After watching the video, use the prompts below to learn more and get your students thinking.

Unpacked’s Mental Health Awareness Month videos are sponsored by Toby and Michael Kumin

  1. Read this article by our head of education, Noam Weissman on happiness and Sukkot and focus on the paragraph about “hygge.” What does this word mean and where in your life can you incorporate this more?
  2. The Jewish prayer “Modeh Ani,” is uttered by Jews around the world upon waking up to begin the day with gratitude. In fact, the theme of gratitude appears within Judaism over and over again. One of the great Jewish scholars, Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon even stated in his magnum opus, Emunot Videot that the purpose of mitzvot is to teach humanity a culture of gratitude. Why do you think Judaism has such a strong emphasis on gratitude? Reflect on different aspects of Judaism and see where gratitude comes up.
  3. Israel repeatedly appears high on the list of happiest countries in the world. Tal explains that a primary predictor of happiness on a national level is relationships/social support. Based on this, if you were the leader of a country, what programs would you initiate to bring your country to the top of this list?
  4. In chapter 4 of the Jewish book Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Shimon Ben Zoma, a prominent rabbinic sage from the second century C.E., asks, “Who is rich?” And then he responds, “He who is happy with his lot.” Nevertheless, Ben Shahar notes that a minimum amount of wealth is necessary for happiness. Why is it hard to be happy with what we have? Is it because we are frequently comparing ourselves to others? What is true happiness to you?
  1. When asked what Tal believes is Judaism’s biggest contribution to the world, he argued that it was the Ten Commandments, specifically Shabbat as there is more research showing how important taking a day off is for mental and physical health. There is even a national day to unplug for 24 hours! Ask your students to present their answer to the question “What is Judaism’s biggest contribution to the world?” After the presentations, ask your students to vote on what they believe Judaism’s biggest contribution is.
  2. Ask your students to fill out a gratitude journal every day for the next week. Students should fill in a minimum of three things they are grateful for each day. At the end of the way, ask students to share how this exercise affected their mood and perspective during the week.
  3. Tal explains that one of the best ways of increasing levels of well-being is through generosity; “when I give, I’m given right back, and when we give, we receive with interest”. Challenge your students to plan an experiment in which they all need to partake in an act of kindness everyday for the next week. After the week, discuss how the experiment affected them.
  4. Listen to Omer Adam’s song “Modeh Ani” and analyze the lyrics with your students. Ask each student to choose something from the lyrics of the song that they are grateful for and explain why.

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