If we want our students to become happy, research suggests that universities should focus more on students’ well-being than academic success.
Student success today is defined by getting a job. So every educational program also aims at making students career-ready or prepare them for global competitiveness. But does that brand of success lead to happiness?
Several studies have found that childhood emotional health and kind, helpful behaviour are the two major factors that contribute to our happiness. The least important predictor is academic success.
For sure, getting a job is a huge and important part of adulthood. But anyone knows that there’s more—so much more—to life than work. And scientists have determined that experiencing positive emotions and having a sense of meaning in both our work and our personal lives are critical to our well-being.
So rather than making teaching either academic skills or happiness and meaning – what if we taught both? In other words, what if teaching them how to build happy and meaningful lives was integrated into the cultivation of their future employability? To me it’s more than worth to consider the possibilities, experiment with it and develop our teaching in it.
fitting happiness into education
According to leading happiness researcher Sonya Lyubomirsky, happiness is defined as ‘the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.’
In other words, happy lives are usually made up of a combination of positive emotions and meaningfulness—both of which contribute greatly to the learning process and well-being.
Emotions play an important role in education. For example, enjoyment of learning motivates students to put in greater effort. Anxiety has a negative effect on students’ ability to solve problems. Whereas hope and pride can increase self-efficacy. Thus, creating a safe, caring and engaging learning environment which promote positive emotions in students, should be high on a teacher’s agenda.
sense of meaning
In addition to positive emotions, happiness also depends on a sense of meaning. Sense of meaning can be described as our lives and our experiences make sense and matter. Students often complain that what they’re learning in university is not relevant to their lives, which can lead to disengagement. Researchers have found that students who see the connection between their learning and their future work goals find more meaning in what they’re learning—on one condition: their goals must benefit others in addition to themselves, and not be oriented towards making money.
Teachers who encourage their students toward this kind of approach to life are laying the foundation for happy and meaningful lives.
But can you teach happiness?
Teachers who want to help students develop happy and meaningful lives have to include social-emotional learning and mindfulness in their learning environment. There are some nuances to the teaching of these skills that can enhance students’ happiness and sense of meaning even more:
– make mindfulness part of every lesson;
– let students work things out;
– give time for reflection.
Life requires us to have the content knowledge and, at the same time, the know-how for getting along with others and ourselves.
Incorporating mindfulness into the learning environment does not need to be complicated or time consuming.
– Before introducing a tough asignment, remind the students that if they start to feel frustrated, instead of quitting, they might do some belly breaths to help them stay calm and focused on the task at hand;
– Start and end the day with two minutes of mindfulness practice, so that students learn the value of approaching life with a sense of calm and focus rather than distracted ‘busyness’.
work things out
Rather than fearing the chaos that can occur when students make behavior mistakes, educators might try embracing those golden moments because that’s when students can really learn. In that way, students learn the ins and outs of happiness-boosting qualities such as compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.
– we might start a session by saying, ‘I know some of our groups have struggled to work together. So what can we do today to make working together go more smoothly? What ground rules do we need to set? What tools do we have if things get tough?’ And then after the lesson, reflect on what worked and what did not work.
Reflection helps us build meaning in our lives. It allows us to bring our humanity into what we are doing by asking how something changed our thinking, our view of the world, our beliefs about others and ourselves.
Teachers who give students time to reflect on what they’re learning and experiencing—both internally and externally—help make the curriculum relevant to students’ lives. They see that not only are they learning content knowledge, they’re also learning to connect with each other, to be empathetic, to understand their own needs and the needs of others. In other words, they’re learning the foundation of what it means to live a happy and meaningful life.
Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, ‘What exactly are we educating for?’ As our society evolves and as we gain a deeper understanding of learning it is no longer enough to train for job skills. Because, how we live our lives matters.