When Aaron Sadoff walks down the hallways at the North Fond du Luc schools, he’s often looking for a hug or a high-five. And teachers and students alike are happy to comply. And it’s not just because Aaron—a big man with a booming voice—is the superintendent.
“He’s very positive and enthusiastic,” says art teacher Alice Tzakais, adding that his enthusiasm has been contagious in the school district. “He’s always encouraging us to come up with new ideas and go for it. He invites you to jump on board.”
Since taking the top post at North Fond du Lac school district eight years ago (he was a principal for three years before that), Aaron has made it his mission to bring happiness back to the schools. With a smile that’s about as subtle as his orange Converse sneakers, he leads by example and has changed the way the schools approach problems as well as the way they celebrate successes.
“I always felt that when I was in a positive emotional state, I had my greatest impact and did my best work,” he says. “When I read The Happiness Advantage, it all made sense. It was no longer just me; there was research to back it all up.”
The science of smiles
Aaron and his staff have implemented several initiatives designed to boost happiness, teach students about grit and resilience, and increase awareness about the importance of things like kindness and creativity. They teach things like manners and respect, and have changed their focus from punishing the negative to rewarding positive behavior.
“Science says you are going to be 30 percent more effective when you’re happy and when you believe that what you’re doing matters,” he points out. “So think about that. If you’re up for 16 hours a day, that’s like getting an extra four hours out of your day!”
Aaron believes participation in happiness initiatives can have a positive effect on student performance. “The way we change things is by measuring it. Schools are starting to figure out that wellness, meditation, things like that—they all have a measurable impact. What’s so neat is that all of this exists, and we’re just now learning how to harness it.”
And, as more teachers and school leaders learn how to harness the power of positivity, he believes it will change the future for both educators and students.
“Once people discover this research, it gives you the power and permission to get up and do this every day. It’s no longer ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ Now, it’s about ‘Do it ‘til you believe it.’ And that’s when you start seeing real change,” he says.
“Our goal is to make today so great that we want to do it again tomorrow.”
Paula Felps is the Science Editor for Live Happy.