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Should Schools Teach Happiness?

Okay, I’ve got today’s watercooler topic for you: Should schools teach happiness? Here’s a video for you to to review and weigh in on:


The video is a short review of a happiness program at a German high school, designed to teach young people how to be happier. Critics argue it’s a gimmick designed to boost exam scores, since happy students apparently do better on exams. I contend that if these happiness classes are actually boosting happiness and increasing scores at the same time, the critics should find a more convincing argument.

The classes are optional for students. Of course, Tal Ben-Shahar’s happiness class at Harvard is optional too, and it’s quickly become one of the most popular courses on the Harvard campus because there’s a real hunger for this sort of education. Unlike Ben-Shahar’s class, which focuses on long-term life satisfaction, the classes at this German high school appear to be focused on helping students cope with negative feelings, including anxiety. This is very much an in-the-moment view of happiness, but it’s certainly a start in the right direction.

High school is a tough time for many students, an emotional roller coaster of esteem issues, social anxiety, and peer pressure. I know from experience that unhappy students don’t perform as well as happy ones, all things being equal. In fact, that’s one of the points made by the headmaster in charge of this program, who said:

“We know that by being happy you can learn more easily. Depressive children are restricted in their learning abilities.”

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the German school system, so I won’t even begin to offer an opinion about whether this particular class is a good idea. However, I am interested in having a conversation about whether this type of class makes sense in theory.

So what do you think? Should schools teach happiness? And if so, what topics should those classes cover? Go ahead and check out the video (that’s why I posted it), and then leave your opinion in the comments section.

JohnPlace

18 Responses to “Should Schools Teach Happiness?”

  • Trey says:

    Personally, I found this article a little too “newsy”, which isn’t the reason I visit this site often. Newspapers bore me. The content of it, however, is very interesting. If there are secrets to being happier I’d sure like to know them. Being in school, I would love to take a happiness class!

    The class could cover things like:
    How the brain deals with emotion
    Communication between people
    Secrets to being a happier person (ie. smile more often)

    I wonder, did they find that people who took the course did better on exams?

  • JohnPlace says:

    Trey: I like your subject topics. Good ideas.
    Regarding the test scores, I’ve been unable to find that data.

    P.S.

    I was trying to mix things up a little with the video content. I figured a quick hitting “watercooler topic” article would be a good way to hear the opinions of my readers so we could all share and grow together. But if my readers express “unhappiness” with the concept, I won’t do this sort of article regularly. Consider this an experiment.

  • Doug Rosbury says:

    I think teaching happiness is a wonderful idea. It’s my feeling that people are so often on their guard when approaching others that they need permission to be happy. Social
    conventions seem to squelch or throw a wet blanket over peoples natural tendency to joke and have fun that we seem to just surrender
    and give up on being light and cheerful and with all the negativity in the news, it’s no wonder that people are so morose and depressed. Yes, I believe we all need permission to be happy and when it becomes
    an official policy people will naturally
    respond with an agreeable demeanor. Doug

  • Chris says:

    I think teaching a class on happiness is putting a band aid on a much larger problem. The school systems now kill individuality. And with that death comes unhappiness. If schools can become a place that fosters the individual, the band aid won’t be needed because the wound will not be inflicted. I’d write more but I am at a restaurant waiting on a client. I am just addicted to this blog

  • the King says:

    Teaching happiness in High school would be a really good idea, the stress students go through is tremendous, i would know, im a senior in HS. To have a place where I can just relax and calm down from the busy day would be awesome for me and so many people i know.

    http://www.thekingspeaks.com/2007/10/13/best-pick-up-line-contest/

  • Eugene says:

    I beleive that a course teaching happiness is needed and should be supported. I can easily see the relevance and the usefulness of such a course, especially now days! Look at all the unhappy people (students and adults) who are totally dissatisfied with their lives, their friends and their future. It seems like we’ve given up on hope and started selecting permenant solutions such as shootings and suicide for temporary (though real and significant) problems and issues. You boyfriend or girlfriend dumps you, it may feel like the end of the world, but it’s not – you lose…your job, your loved ones, your position and feel like the world has dumped too much on you… a course in happiness might show you that
    1) you are not alone and are not the first or only person to go through whatever your issue is
    2) it may look like the world is winning, but as long as you’re breathing the fight is still on and you can prevail
    3) quitting is always easier than trying…but trying is what yeilds the sweetest rewards

    Just some random thoughts from the cheap seats
    ~
    Eugene

  • Jason says:

    I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be allowed, and if even just a few people gain from the class, it contributed to the world… quite possibly considerably more than your 537th English class (How many times can you cover the same subject?).

  • Linda says:

    “Critics” are actually supporters in their argument of ulterior motives. Like increasing exam scores is a bad thing?
    I WISH we had had hapiness classes in school; with so much bad news thrown at the average high school student every day, finding the good in something to be happy is not a school or social skill; it’s a LIFE skill.

  • Sri says:

    Actually a “happiness” class is only part of the solution. Apathy for learning arises when the value of the material is not apparent. Why not make the material relevant? More importantly why not make the relevance of the material obvious? Even though I fared well in exams, I found I had hardly learnt anything. Pure cramming and short term memory usage! How about an emphasis on practical work? Atleast when students leave schools and universities to venture out into the real world, they wont be in for a surprise.

    Sri

  • JEWELZ says:

    All of the comments are very good–I too think a class should be taught but maybe not limited to ‘happiness’. How about a class that that highlights the postitive choices available to us all (happiness being one of them-but also being the person YOU want to be and not who your parents want you to be. ect…)unlimited potential in all of us, how to maintain a PMA (positive mental attitude), the consequences of procrastination and the ways to get past procrastination (GTD-Getting Things Done), that’s just what popped into my head this morning!!

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks for all the great comments here, everyone. The watercooler topic received a good response.

    My personal opinion: Some scholars, like Tal Ben-Shahar, believe that happiness is the ultimate currency, that nearly every human endeavor can be traced back to the quest for happiness. And although I’m not sure that happiness is truly the ultimate currency, I am certain it has a prodigious exchange rate. The “bigger picture” definition of happiness would include lessons on how to control our emotions, and also lessons about what the field of psychology has taught us about the human pursuit of happiness, including such topics as relationships, finances, career, and personal authenticity. I’m not suggesting we mandate such classes; I’m merely suggesting that these “happiness” lessons are important (whether learned at school or elsewhere), and I would certainly support such a program if it were offered in my area.

  • Ann Larson says:

    With the rise of adolescent suicide and depression, maybe we need to take the time to teach students how to happy. Mostly students of today come from many adverse enviornments and happy is not recognized. What have we got to lose?

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  • lorna McCaine says:

    Great article. I don’t think that we should teach people how to be happy, but rather that happiness is an illusion and that we should try to deal with our situations POSITIVELY. Otherwise we just go thru life feeling like a failure because somehow we did not master the happiness lesson

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