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Be happy and know it

I'm frequently privileged to walk around a school with the head or a senior colleague. They always enjoy the experience, but sometimes there is an extra dimension - a feeling that this is a person who just relishes everything along the way.

An encounter with a site manager, a quick visit to a good lesson, some gleeful repartee with a student who seems to be on the loose. ("Come on, Jason. What did Mrs Williams really say?") all seem to be part of a box of delights.

What I'm observing, I realise, is the gift of being genuinely interested in someone else's achievements and experiences.

I thought of this when I heard the writer Kurt Vonnegut, now 83, interviewed last week on Radio 4's Front Row. Towards the end, Mark Lawson asked him if he found life hard.

"Oh yes," Vonnegut replied. "Sometimes I feel I'd just as soon skip it all."

But then he went on to explain that something good always comes along to persuade him that the effort is worth it.

"We are all bribed by many epiphanies," he said, although, he added, most of us do not sufficiently enjoy the good moments. His Uncle Alex, he said, felt strongly on the subject.

"He felt that what was intolerable about human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy."

Do you have time to notice when you are happy? One of the problems about having a responsible position in a school, or anywhere else, is that it is easy to skate through the happy bits, preoccupied with the loose remnants of the last problem and the first inklings of the next.

So you walk down the corridor, trying to get your mind back from the difficult meeting you have just had with an angry parent and forward to the tricky lesson observation that you now have to do.

On the way you meet Nirmal, excited and bursting to tell you that he has a brand new baby sister, and that he went to the hospital to see her and his mum last night.

You smile, and say the right things, and move on. But do you mentally pause and focus and really engage with Nirmal, absorbing and reflecting some of his joy, staying in the moment with him?

It is an epiphany for Nirmal, and you could be part of it. Be happy with him, stop to reflect on what a privilege it is to get paid for that sort of encounter in your working life - and maybe, at 83, you will sound as relaxed and funny as Kurt Vonnegut.

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