Happiness: What Does this Mean in Education?

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By Paul Watts, Research Fellow
Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue, University of Birmingham

Much attention has been given to the concept of happiness, both in the UK and internationally, with Theresa May appointing a minister to tackle loneliness, the launch of the 2018 World Happiness Report, and the work of the Ministry of State for Happiness in Dubai.

Tuesday 20th March  2018 marks the International Day of Happiness – a day in which people from all over the world are encouraged to act to help instil happiness around them. This year’s theme places emphasis on our ability to share happiness and focuses on the importance of relationships, kindness and helping each other.

Happiness and education appear to go hand-in-hand, though many teachers would contest that the current educational climate does not support this. Happiness can take many forms and depends on one’s role, feelings, emotions and motivations. Given the amount of time spent in schools, it’s important to consider how happiness features for both pupils and educators.

The happiness of school pupils is a main priority for all involved in education. A recent visit to Dubai included a meeting with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) who have carried out interesting research into happiness and wellbeing in schools; their Student Wellbeing Census provides a unique insight into the happiness of pupils in 90% of Dubai schools. Pupils are at different stages of development and are still forming their ideas, relationships and perceptions of the world around them. Happiness for them, and others, may be clouded by materialism at times, but it takes one day in a school to see that real happiness for them revolves around their friendships with each other and their relationships with teachers. The KHDA’s finding that the happiest pupils have close friendships (amongst other characteristics) supports this.

For those who train teachers, happiness may be experienced through seeing trainees flourish, blossoming into the kind, caring and competent educators of future generations. Training concerning the role of the teacher as an exemplar is central to this and is recognised in the Jubilee Centre’s research into teacher education.

But what is happiness for a teacher? Reaching the school holidays in one piece? Pupils “getting it”? Putting aside potentially cynical responses to this question, as a former teacher, I’ve given it some thought. Most teachers enter the profession as a result of a moral motivation or through a desire to positively impact on the lives of young people. While there are, of course, many factors impacting on a teacher’s wellbeing, a major source of happiness for them is the development of their pupils. Schools aim to develop confident and compassionate individuals who are effective contributors to society – teachers can see first-hand the positive impact they have had in this regard and take much joy from it.

While it is likely that Tuesday 20th March will pass unnoticed for many teachers, lost in a blur of marking and caffeine, they will be contributing to the International Day of Happiness in their own, significant way.

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