Teachers! You don’t have to accept being unhappy

We spend term time counting down to the next break, constantly delaying our gratification. But we deserve to feel OK every day

treadmill stress

Years ago, I splashed out on a treadmill, certain that this was the key to #livingmybestlife.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t.

Aside from its occasional service as a clothes horse (and it’s not a patch on the exercise bike in that role, to be honest) it’s been entirely abandoned.


Quick read: The key to teacher wellbeing? A better mental diet

Quick listen: The truth about mental health in schools

Want to know more? Why a shared school calendar boosts teacher wellbeing


That’s because – as healthy as it may be – running on the spot without actually getting anywhere quickly gets old.

It isn’t the only treadmill I’ve given up on.

I’ve also forsaken the Hedonic Treadmill; a term coined in the 1970s and developed by psychologist Michael Eysenck in the 1990s.

In a nutshell, it’s the theory that we want something, we get it, we feel good for a while and then our happiness (or misery) returns to where it was before.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting things from time to time. But if you’re permanently in a state of seeking – a slimmer waistline, a better-paying job, the latest tech – then you’re bound to view your current situation with a degree of dissatisfaction.

Not to mention the disappointment when the buzz of getting what you want fades away.

As teachers, we’re even more susceptible to postponed happiness, viewing life as we do through the lens of a school calendar. Knackered? Yes, but I’ll rest over Easter. Miserable? Yes, but I’ve just booked a fortnight in Corfu in August!

treadmill stress

Things have been so bad for so long, that many of us have given up on happiness during term time, relegating it to Saturday afternoons and those 12 weeks of holidays each year. Forget the other 40.

But this isn’t OK. We deserve to experience peace, joy and happiness every day.

So how can we get it? How can we stop chasing rainbows and find happiness now?

Practise (and prioritise) self-care

Making an effort to schedule self-care into your day is fundamental. Maybe it’s a relaxing bath, a meal with family or an hour with a good book.

If you can incorporate daily exercise into your routine and throw some mood-boosting endorphins into the mix, even better. Value and protect this time. Never sacrifice it to school deadlines.

Be mindful

Mindfulness is a means by which we can learn to become more present, in the present moment. It allows us to notice and accept our thoughts, no matter how crappy they might be, without letting them drive our mood and behaviour.

But don’t take my word for it, try it out. When you next find yourself mulling over the negative, bring your attention elsewhere – your breath, your feet, the sounds or smells or sights in the room.

And whenever a thought comes in, acknowledge it by squeezing your hand and returning your focus to where it was.

Be grateful

Take a couple of minutes each day to write down three things that you’re grateful to have in your life; people, places, things, experiences, challenges, whatever. Consistently focusing on what you do have, instead of what you don’t, is a vital step towards appreciating yourself, others and the world around you.

Beware of social media

If you allow your focus to be continuously pulled to other people’s “perfect” bodies, stunning houses and extraordinary achievements, don’t be surprised when you feel like a fat, ugly cow with a second-rate personality and a house to match.

But it’s not you, it’s them - and it’s all fake anyway. So don’t look (or at least look less).

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions

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