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Humans of White Plains: The Happiness Interviews

By the students of Ms. LoScalzo's Period 8 Journalism class

The students in Ms. LoScalzo's Period 8 Journalism class interviewed people in their lives and from the White Plains community to learn about how they cultivate happiness. To prepare for the interviews, the students watched a documentary entitled "Happy" and read articles about happiness and positive psychology. Students learned that while a percentage of human happiness is genetic and another small percentage is environmental, forty percent is attributed to things we do ourselves to cultivate happiness such as helping others, exercising, doing activities that create "flow," meditating, and maintaining close human connections with family, friends, and our communities. As we all continue to weather a pandemic that can still be isolating and confusing, learning about positive psychology and how to take care of ourselves and our mental health can be helpful and meaningful. Read on to see what people said about important questions like, "Does money buy happiness?" and "What activities help you to stay positive?"

Christian Cabral, WPHS Social Studies Teacher

By Claraladays Bernal

Christian Cabral is a teacher at White Plains High School. Mr. Cabral has been my teacher for three months, and I can say he’s my favorite. Through this short time that I have known him, I have noticed that he is a happy and positive person. I sat down with Mr.Cabral recently to learn about his happiness.

Q. Mr. Cabral, tell me about yourself.

A. I am Dominican. Both my parents were born in the Dominican Republic. I was raised in the city. I’m a educator, and I’ve been an educator for 11 years. I love teaching. Yeah that’s it for now.

Q. Tell me about what makes you happy?

A. Seeing my students succeed, making my wife happy, when I do something right, helping random strangers with things. You know like if they're hungry on the street, I’ll give them something to eat.

Q. Why do you think that makes you happy?

A. I think that from a young age and because I grew up being poor, I learned to value the simple things in life. Like having a meal, having something to drink, having a roof over my head, and having clothes to wear. I also think that being able to give someone else the same things makes me feel like I’m putting that person in a better position too, and and maybe they were not as fortunate.

Q. Tell me about your happiness during Covid-19?

A. So during Covid, I was not happy at all. I didn’t get to have my poetry club, my students in front of me; I didn’t know how my students were feeling. Everyone was being socially awkward. People were afraid to see each other. So I felt isolated. I felt depressed. I felt lonely. I missed all the things we used to do before Covid. Which was to socialize, to celebrate, and to get together.

Q. Tell me about what you did to overcome those feelings?

A. I don’t know if I completely overcame those feelings but I tried to do little things like meditation. I would take walks, go outside, learn new things. Like I tried to teach myself new things like how to invest my money in stock markets. So, I try to learn new skills, and I also helped raise 20,000 dollars with my colleague for people in White Plains who are undocumented or who are struggling and in need of food. Those things kind of got me back on track.

Q. How do you feel about the saying “Money buys happiness?"

A. I would say that money is helpful and useful but that’s not gonna make you happy. It’s not why I do my job. I love teaching, and its not because of my paycheck. It’s because of my relationships. And the things I get to do to help my students though, whether school work or displaying a better person. I can see that fulfills me more than money itself. The money is kind of just a means to do stuff your life, but it's not what gives happiness.

Q. So in Journalism class, I learned about something called "flow." Flow is like when you get into something that you really like and you just lose track of everything and you just go on with it. What do you think your flow is?

A. My flow can be poetry. When I get in a zone of poetry and all that matters is my poetry. It can happen anywhere, anytime. Like the other day I was driving, and I was just zoning out and was getting hit with so many ideas for poems. It happens when I’m taking a shower or when I’m trying go to sleep. It can even happen when I’m teaching, when I’m hopping from kid to kid or just walking to the classroom, I just get into the zone and it’s the only thing on my mind.

Sarah Jabbour, English Teacher

By Alana Gray

Sarah Jabbour is an English teacher at White Plains High School. Mrs. Jabbour has been an amazing teacher to me since school started, and she even taught my older sibling. In my opinion, Ms. Jabbour seems like a very down to earth and happy person. I’m very glad I got the chance to interview her and learn about her perspective on happiness.

Q. Tell me about yourself.

A. I am an English teacher here at White Plains High School. I’m also a mom of two girls; one is 10 and one is 12. I’m a photographer, and I live in White Plains but grew up in New Jersey.

Q. What are your thoughts on whether happiness comes naturally or not?

A. I think happiness can come naturally, but I also think it’s a choice that we make to be happy, and I think we do have some control over our happiness levels. That can come from choosing to do things that make us happy and [provide] a different perspective on things.

Q. People say that “money buys happiness." What do you have to say about this?

A. I don’t think it can buy happiness, and I think that’s where a lot of people get confused especially when money is just giving you choices and options but happiness really comes from perspective and gratitude. Also the relationships you have with yourself and others.

Q. What do you value most in your life that always brings you happiness and why?

A. First thing that comes to mind is you know my two children. They are one of my main sources of happiness. I would also say the relationship that I have with my friends and my family are very valuable to me.

Q. Tell me how your happiness increased/decreased once you found your passion? Did it have to do with the people that surrounded you that made you love what you do?

A. Yes. I think once I got into teaching, and I was able to develop relationships with students even outside of what they were learning, showing that I care brought me a lot of happiness. And I think when someone is happy it affects the people around you. With your close friends and family, you always wish them happiness and I think if you really celebrate those people in your life that energy flows.

Q. Over the pandemic what are some things you did to develop happiness for yourself and others?

A. Trying to maintain contact was really important even though that meant a different way of getting to spend time with people but keeping those relationships through any way possible. I think reading and trying to maintain hobbies like learning and trying new recipes kept my mind happy and engaged. Exercise is very important to me so finding new ways to do that and keep my body healthy as well.

Q. What are some things you think people could do it find/gain happiness?

A. I think it takes a lot of reflection on your own life and being honest with yourself and being grateful for what you have and being honest about what you want with your life and who you want in your life...again maintaining close relationships with those who make you happy.

Q, Has your definition of happiness changed over time in a good way or bad way? Explain?

A. I think so, you know when you’re younger you think, "Oh, if I get this job and make this amount of money or if I do this and I please people and set certain goals for myself is what I use to define happiness, now I think happiness comes from again that sense of gratitude and being grateful for what I do have and keeping connections that are close to me.

Q. What ways have you made the world better to not only make you happy but also others?

A. I think especially through teaching and even outside of teaching and students, [I] just to make the people in my life my family, my children, feel important, feel loved. To focus on the non materialistic things in life and practice gratitude daily.

Q. What would you say to children growing up about achieving happiness in life?

A. Being true to who you are, doing things that you love, and not trying to work hard to please other people. Making sure that the people in your life -- whether they’re friends or anyone else-- are supportive of you and want to see that you’re happy. And again being grateful for what you have.

Skyler Rosen: WPHS Freshman

By Saira Loughlin

A younger Skyler at fifth grade graduation.

Skyler Rosen is a freshman at White Plains High School. She is one of my good friends and has been in the White Plains community her whole life. Whenever I see her, she is always laughing and smiling. She is one of the kindest people I know and is always helping people around her in anyway she can. For this project, I decided to sit down and talk with Skyler about happiness and what is important to her.

Q: Hi Skyler! I’m so glad to be talking with you for this interview on moods and happiness. So to start off, tell me a little bit about yourself.

A: Hi Saira! Thanks for choosing me for your interview. A little bit about me, hmm let me think! I’m a freshman, I love listening to music, I love going to concerts, specifically a Ross Lynch concert! He’s my favorite artist. I love spending time with my family, going on vacations, and weekends where there is no school.

Q: Ok! So do you feel that generally you are a happy person? Why or why not?

A: Yes, most of the time I am pretty happy. There are of course some days where I’m not feeling like myself and not the happiest I can be, but I try to find happiness everyday. Even the bad ones.

Q: That’s really nice. Connecting back to finding happiness even during the bad days, do you feel like the pandemic has affected your happiness and mood levels? Do you feel like you were happier before or after the pandemic? Explain why.

A: I would say… I guess I am happier now actually. Yeah, because before the pandemic I wasn’t in that place where I really felt like who I was until now. So I feel like I am happier now, since I’ve reached my true self. You know, sort of like a glow up, but a personality glow up instead!

Q: I never knew that’s how you felt! That’s cool how you sort of reinvented yourself during the pandemic and all of this time off. Speaking of time, are you spending time on what you value most and the people you value most? Are all of your relationships going well?

A: Yeah, I do feel like I’m spending time with what I love doing and who I love as well. But I should really stop wasting time scrolling on Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, I was spending so much time on it my parents started putting time limits on my phone! Only allowed on social media for an hour a day to be exact. I love spending time with my family everyday. I love seeing my friends, I love seeing you. Love you, Saira! I’m also really lucky that all of my relationships currently are going pretty well. I can’t complain.

Q: I love you too, Skyler! You say you spend most of your time being happy with the people you love and what you love doing. So do you wake up happy? What is the first thing you think of when you wake up?

A: Usually my favorite music and artists are the first things I will think about. Well, when I don’t think about music I think about school. Whether it’s the weekday or weekend. I hate waking up early on a weekday. I usually don’t wake up so happy when I have to go to school; I’m pretty cranky! On the weekends, I get to sleep in late, and I wake up happy. On Saturday’s and Sundays I wake up and think “Yeah lets get this day going!” I should probably be more positive, yeah. When I wake up I should just accept the fact that school is annoying sometimes, but at least its only six hours! I hate catching the bus at 6:30 in the morning.

Q: Yeah, I’m sure a lot of people can relate to how you feel! Now do you feel that you rely on people, and different things to make yourself happy? Or do you think your happiness comes from yourself?

A: My happiness comes from myself and what I’m feeling. But definitely other people affect the levels of my happiness. If I’m around negative people, then I will be in a negative mood. So yeah, I create my own happiness, but certain people and different environments have an impact on my moods as well.

Q: Great! I have a couple more questions for you. Are you happy with the place you are in life right now? Are you happy with your career/school life? Why or why not?

A: Uh, my school life… yeah I’m happy. I just wish my B- in science would go up to a B+ so I don’t have to be so stressed about that! But everything else is going fine and I’m really happy with where I am and how things are doing at school.

Q: I’m glad to hear that. Lastly, what are you grateful for? Explain to me how you will try to make yourself even more happy moving forward.

A: I’m grateful for my family, my friends like you, thankful for my house and a roof over my head, my clothes, food on the dinner table every night, thankful for the concerts I get to go to. I’m grateful for life, my parents gave me life, after all. What I will do to make myself even happier: keeping my friends around that make me the happiest. Friends like you.

Saira: Thank you so much Skyler! I appreciate this so much. Thanks for sitting down to talk with me to talk about this subject.

Skyler: Anytime Saira! I will see you tomorrow.

Eliana Useche: WPHS Parent and WP Bus Driver

By Steven Useche

Eliana Useche is a bus driver for the White Plains Bus Company. Born in Colombia, Eliana comes from a humble background, and her views on happiness are very interesting. Recently, I sat down with Eliana and asked her a series of questions about happiness. I learned a lot of interesting things about her views on happiness that have changed my perspective on the topic as well. Being from the Andean country, her happiness is a natural part of her personality.

Q. What makes you happy?

A. Knowing that my son is alright makes me happy, knowing that he behaves well, that he’s a good kid, is doing good in school, worries about his studies, is a responsible kid, that makes me happy.

Q. What activities make you happy?

A. Going to the gym because exercise helps me relax, helps me be healthy, and takes away the stress of the busy everyday life.

Q. Why does life have meaning?

A. Life has meaning because it is something magnificent that God gave us.

Q. What makes a happy life?

A. Your own self makes a happy life with good behavior, good spirit, and being with loved ones and you don’t need money to be happy.

Q. How did you manage to maintain your happiness during quarantine?

A. Staying united with my loved ones, spending time with them, staying at home doing chores, dedicating my time to my house, and cooking meals for my loved ones during this tough time.

Q. What do you do to feel happy when you are feeling sad?

A. To feel happy when I am feeling sad I listen to Christian music because it raises my spirit and takes away my sadness.

Q. How do you think someone who is struggling to find happiness in life can find happiness?

A. What they can do to find happiness is love themselves and find God and pray to Him because if you have problems He helps you resolve them. They can also go out and walk and do an activity that makes them feel special and important.

Q. How do you prevent being sad?

A. Avoid being alone and not have bad thoughts, do the activities I like, and always being occupied in something productive and beneficial.

Q. What is the American dream to you?

A. The American dream is seeing your kids grow up as a person and as a professional, and having my own house.

Q. Do you think environmental factors affect how happy someone is? Are more developed countries like the United States happier than underdeveloped countries or is it the other way around?

A. I think that environmental factors do not affect a person’s happiness because someone’s happiness is not in the environment, someone’s happiness in within themselves. I also think that money does not make rich parents nor poor parents happy. Money does not influence that. What influences a parents’ happiness is their form of looking at life and living their life.

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