One in four children are affected by anxiety disorders, putting our next generation of leaders and innovators at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences and engage in substance abuse.
Recent research from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America revealed that one in four children are affected by anxiety disorders; putting our next generation of leaders and innovators at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences and engage in substance abuse.
With this troubling trend in mind, earlier this year, LG Electronics USA launched “Life’s Good: Experience Happiness” — a partnership with nonprofits Project Happiness, Inner Explorer and Discovery Education aimed at helping equip 5.5 million American youth with the skills for sustainable happiness. The partnership established the framework for a new high school program called the Happiness Club. In participating schools across the country — selected based on their enthusiasm, creativity, need and commitment — the clubs will lay the foundations for teens to learn the happiness skills during the most stressed time of their life.
We spoke with Mike Pepperman, LG’s Manager of CSR and Community Relations, to learn more about the program and how it aligns with LG’s mission to “cooperate toward a better life for all.”
How did the Experience Happiness program come to be? Why did LG decide to focus on this cause in particular? And why the focus on teens?
Mike Pepperman: In late 2016, LG’s U.S. CEO challenged us to explore new CSR initiatives to enhance and expand how we give back to our communities in the U.S. We set out to identify and design a program based on LG’s longtime philosophy of giving back: to support those who strive to realize their dreams and to actively contribute toward making a better society where everyone can lead a happy life. With those principles in mind, we also wanted to stay true to LG’s global CSR framework and vision of “cooperating toward a better life for all.” It was also important to us that we identify a space where others were not already heavily engaged and where we felt we could have the biggest positive impact. Finally, we wanted our program to seamlessly connect to our overarching marketing approach “Life’s Good” with LG.
This journey took us through an iterative process based on stakeholder consultation, market analysis and research, until we narrowed the field of possible social issues and landed on one that really resonated with us and seemed like a perfect fit for LG – happiness and how to lead a good life. We learned that two out of three American teens are stressed, and many don’t know how to handle it; when school is in session, teens are the most stressed group in America. Stress and anxiety can negatively impact teens’ health, friendships, relationships and academic performance. But we also learned that over 70 years of research shows that happiness is achievable and that happiness skills can be taught, learned and practiced.
LG’s Experience Happiness program seizes on this research and the concept that happiness is the ability to consistently recognize that Life's Good, even if it's hard sometimes. And we all have the ability to learn from and bounce back from the hard times. We are passionate about teens and their role as future leaders and change agents – so LG Electronics USA set out on a mission to equip youth with the skills necessary to create sustainable happiness in their lives.
The program focuses on cultivating six key skills: mindfulness, human connection, gratitude, positive outlook, purpose and generosity. How is LG’s technological expertise helping students cultivate these skills?
MP: Happiness can feel fleeting, elusive and difficult to describe. Happiness is not just an emotion – researchers studying social emotional well-being define happiness as a balance, the combination of how often and robust our positive emotional experiences are, how gracefully we recover from difficult experiences, and how meaningful and worthwhile we feel our lives are. Working together with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley, LG identified [the above] six skills to form the foundation of our Experience Happiness program.
We want to reach teens where they are most connected to the opportunity to learn these skills – so in large part, our partners are delivering their programs in schools and in the classrooms. However, we definitely recognize that technology plays a critical role today in connecting with kids, so we are delivering the program primarily through digital content, web-based programs and social media. And we are looking at a number of different ways to integrate LG Experience Happiness program into some of our product lines, for example tablets and phones.
With a growing spotlight on teen mental health (particularly in light of recent incidents such as the Parkland shooting), programs such as Experience Happiness have the potential to have a major impact by providing a wide range of students with important tools to develop critical coping skills. Did this play into the decision to make the platform free?
MP: We wanted to give back in a way that not only reflects LG’s core brand values but addresses a major issue affecting American teens. It was important for us to identify a relatively free space where others were not actively engaged. We also wanted to work with kids where we felt we could have the biggest positive impact. In today’s world of constant connectivity and 24-hour news cycles, we are all bombarded with a variety of topics that can create heightened stress, anxiety and depression. There is no other group of people where this rings truer than with teens, and we felt passionate about connecting with them on this issue.
There’s lots of research that shows that happy children are more likely to become happy adults, and experience success in relationships, health, continued academics and work performance. For example, happier people show less reactivity to stress, enjoy better sleep, less insulin resistance and higher good cholesterol levels. Additionally, those who identify as happy are more creative, more helpful and more sociable. We know that happiness is deeply rooted in close, supportive relationships with others, and social connections are particularly important to teens, as student happiness can also depend on relationships young people form with teachers and peers. Happy children do better in school. Happy learners remember information better and happiness is positively associated with GPA. Because most young people gain self-esteem from academic performance and social standing, students with higher grade point averages tend to be happier.
Experience Happiness brings together leaders in the science of happiness and education, including Inner Explorer, Project Happiness and the Greater Good Science Center. What attracted LG to this collaborative approach? What was the collaboration process like and how have these partners helped enrich the program?
MP: LG has an authentic desire to make a difference in this area, but our company doesn’t work directly with teens, design curriculum or teach in middle or high school classrooms. We believe that our role is to nurture and sustain the best thought leaders and nonprofits in this space in order to help them scale their delivery to more and more students.
Our collaborations with Greater Good Science Center, Inner Explorer and Project Happiness have been incredibly rewarding. For example, Greater Good helped us develop our master messaging for the Experience Happiness program to ensure that when we talked about the science of happiness, what we said was grounded in actual scientific studies. Project Happiness and Inner Explorer have introduced us to students, teachers and school principals all of whom are having transformational experiences and all of whom inspire and motivate us to continue our work.
The goal is to reach 5.5 million students. How many have engaged with the platform to date? How will you measure the impact of the program?
MP: Our goal is ambitious, and we are thrilled about the response so far — just a few months into our program, we’ve already reached nearly 250,000 students with sustainable happiness skills. After an initial “soft” launch, the official kick off was on March 20, 2018 (the UN’s International Day of Happiness), with a national media blitz with a Berkeley happiness expert explaining the science of happiness. We also created a “virtual field trip” with our partner, Discovery Education, to roll out a three-year program to teach these skills to thousands of students, teachers and parents. The foundation of the program involves partnering with leading non-profit organizations such as Inner Explorer and Project Happiness to reach and teach students directly in schools throughout the academic year through curriculum aligned and skill-based lessons. We are working with each of our partners to measure the number the number of kids we reach through these programs.
How does the program work?
MP: We are working with a number of partners to help teach the science of happiness and to share the six skills to practice that can help lead to sustainable happiness:
- With Inner Explorer, schools can subscribe to their mindfulness training program and teachers can take students through pre-recorded, daily mindfulness sessions that simultaneously teach students about the other sustainable happiness skills, as well as the science of happiness — there is a lot of neuroscientific data to support the benefits of mindfulness and its contribution to one’s sense of happiness and wellbeing.
- With Project Happiness, students participate in Happiness Clubs after school and take part in curricular activities designed to teach the sustainable happiness skills.
- And with Discovery Education, we’re making a happiness skill curriculum available to teachers and students all across the nation. Discovery Education is building curriculum mapped both to the science and to the state educational standards.
Are there plans to extend the platform to other age groups?
MP: Our initial focus is on middle and high school students, though our partners also work with elementary school students, and much of the material is also available to younger students through their work.
Technology is profoundly changing the way we interact. The rise in popularity of the idea of a "digital detox" would suggest that this hasn't necessarily been for the best. Would you say Experience Happiness is helping tackle this issue? Do you think that key players in the tech industry have a responsibility to drive change in this area?
Technology is not only changing the way we interact but also the speed at which these interactions take place. The presence of technology in their lives is going to continue and they need the skills to be able to cope with the stress that accompanies that. A “digital detox” is an interesting concept and helpful in certain instances, but we believe that a longer-term solution is necessary, which is why the LG Experience Happiness platform is focused on delivering skills. In addition to creating more self-awareness and resiliency, practicing the six Sustainable Happiness Skills helps promote a kinder culture through an understanding of the impact that you have on those around you.