Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Can We Teach Happiness in the Classroom?

In the past, happiness was understood and experienced in the context of philosophical and religious beliefs. But today we tend to think of happiness as a lone agent, detached from broader visions of what constitutes a good life.

It’s a debate that’s been bubbling away for years; an obvious extension of the age-old question of what makes people happy. An article on The Guardian looks back; pointing out that the perennial question has a history.

The crux of the debate in the educational system therefore lies in where happiness ‘fits’ (I think most people will agree that schools aren’t just places for intellectual development and churning out exams). Happiness is an inherent part of schools, like it is in many other institutions in society. Schools help prepare young people for the professional world, by educating them and giving them the tools they need to succeed.

Education director of the Greater Good Science Center, Vicki Zakrzewski and Peter Brunn argue that we should be teaching young people that success in life and achieving happiness isn’t just about getting a job, but about living a meaningful life. They say that to do this, educators should promote students’ emotional health by making connections between what students are learning and their future work goals and lives.

Research shows that this approach works, with students finding more meaning in what they’re learning, and thus laying the foundation for a happy (and meaningful) life. But, this is only on the proviso that their goals must benefit others, in addition to themselves, and must not be solely about making money. Focusing too much on the latter and simply on ‘careers’ can have the adverse effect, contributing to a sense of meaninglessness. Happiness is where the real money is at, so best to find it in a career that you love.

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