As the school year wound down, the students began to get a handle on all the year’s material and prepare for final exams. There was a lot of nervousness and worry. It was certainly a year of fun times and laughter, but also one of hard work and stress. The end of the year is a time when they look back and try to review what they have learned. So one day, as they flip back through pages of notes and seek to piece things together, I asked them to stop and reflect. I asked them to reflect on a topic which we have talked about many times: happiness. I asked to answer this question “What do you feel is the key to happiness?”

I started playing a CD of Gregorian chant I had nearby and not a minute had gone by before they had begun to write. I went to my desk to give them some freedom. After a few minutes I went around the room and saw most desks with at least one page completed. It struck a cord. These teenagers had clear ideas about happiness. To my surprise, they weren’t focused on having things or going places, but on things that give meaning to life, that are fulfilling.

Their responses to the question “What do you feel is the key to happiness?” included:
“Family, friends and God”
“To follow God’s path”
“Being the best version of yourself”
“Everything that’s pure and clean”
“Loving people and people loving you back”
“Living life to the fullest and sharing special moments with your family”
“Being generous and helpful to others”
“Being around people you love and the people who love you”
“To have God in our lives”
“A sense of completeness”
“A sense of belonging”
“Being needed for something”
“Knowing that you have a purpose”
“Perfect harmony with everyone and yourself”
“If doing good and helping others makes us happy, then the ability to choose to do good will make us happy”
“Living the way God wants”

We have explored many lives of people in the world who are making a difference such as at Do Something or the Urban Youth Ministry. These students are about to go off and begin their fun-filled summer vacation.

Perhaps this summer will be spent knowing that happiness has other roots. Perhaps they’ll be encouraged to strive to find true happiness, and join the many who are out there making the world a better place. If you still have some days left with your students before the year ends, offer them the challenge to get to know other youth their age who are out there helping others. They just might take you up on it.