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World Happiness Report 2016 Update | 5 Key Implications for Education, and how Moving to an Academies-Only Education System Could Help

Four days before International Day of Happiness, the World Happiness Report 2016 Update has been issued, analysing answers from approximately 3,000 respondents per country in over 150 countries.

This report focuses specifically on three key areas:

  1. The Distribution of World Happiness
  2. Promoting Secular Ethics
  3. Happiness and Sustainable Development

I will briefly cover some of the main findings in the above areas and examine the implications, as I see them, for education in the UK.

The overarching message out of this report, I feel, is one of a movement towards more focus on the greater good (and not in the hilariously dark way in which it is referred to in the film ‘Hot Fuzz’!), with increasing emphasis on wider, more holistic, measures of well-being than merely economic ones, and a growing desire to move towards a world with less inequality in well-being, more kindness and altruism, and more collaboration.  The human need for some form of organised secular ethics also comes out strongly.

In addition to the three key areas discussed in the main report, the Special Rome Edition also includes an interesting section on parenting, specifically the finding that those without children (based on a large sample from more than 100 countries) generally have higher life satisfaction and that the impact of having children on reducing life satisfaction is greater where there are larger demands on parents’ time, created by work, or where there are bigger economic pressures created by unemployment.

The Distribution of World Happiness

Full data tables are available 20-22 of the report.  The UK ranks 23rd out of 157, with Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland ranking 1-5 respectively.

The report examines the changes in life evaluations from 2005-2007, “before the onset of the global recession”, to 2013-2015.

“There is evidence that a crisis imposed on a weak institutional structure can actually further damage the quality of the supporting social fabric if the crisis triggers blame and strife rather than co-operation and repair.  On the other hand, economic crises and natural disasters can, if the underlying institutions are of sufficient quality, lead to improvements rather than damage to the social fabric.  These improvements not only ensure better responses to the crisis, but also have substantial additional happiness returns, since people place real value to feeling that they belong to a caring and effective community.

The happiness effects of crisis response may also be mediated through generosity triggered by a large natural disaster, with the additional generosity adding to happiness.”

See page 28 of the report for some great examples from Ireland, Iceland and Japan.

Promoting Secular Ethics

This section of the World Happiness Report 2016 Update reminded me of a conversation I had with Rony Robinson on BBC Radio Sheffield in September last year, about secular churches.

The report looks at what it calls the “greatest happiness principle”, and specifically

“The obligation of each of us is to create the greatest amount of human happiness that we can in the world and the least misery. (Overall happiness of course includes our own.)”

The report then goes on to state that

“It is therefore a huge advantage of the greatest happiness principle that it requires self-compassion as well as compassion towards others.”

Incidentally, both self-compassion (or self-kindness) and compassion towards others are key aspects to resilience and wellbeing that my colleagues and I teach children on the RWS | Resilience Wellbeing Success programme.

Happiness and Sustainable Development

Here, the report states that

“Human well-being will be fostered by a holistic agenda of economic, social and environmental objectives, rather than a narrow agenda of economic growth alone.”


What, then, are the implications for education in the UK?

If you look at the findings of the report and bring them back to what this means on a local level, I believe that the UK education system needs to:

  1. Place an increased focus on raising individual and collective happiness
  2. Allow children to explore more ways to reduce well-being inequalities between individuals, groups, and countries
  3. Focus more on collaboration, generosity and altruism as ways for society to function, the economy to grow and individuals to flourish
  4. Provide more opportunities for secular ethical discussions through activities and gatherings, including initiatives such as Philosphy for Children and various resilience and well-being programmes.
  5. Provide more support for parents.  I don’t mean that schools aren’t doing enough.  They are already doing a lot with very limited resources.  This needs to be resourced properly, but something needs to be done.  How can parents support their children if they are crumbling under the pressure of parenting?

All schools are due to become academies in the next 6 years – does that spell disaster? 

Let’s remember what the report says about ‘blame and strife’ versus ‘collaboration and repair’ in times of crisis, and let’s look at the positives.*

As we see the end of the national curriculum looming on the horizon, how can the changes I outline above happen on a national level?

Academies have more freedom to choose how and what they teach.  If all schools become Academies, all schools will have the freedom to experiment with different programmes and initiatives.

Through collaboration with other schools – whether it’s by joining or forming Multi-Academy Trusts, or collaboration and sharing of best practice between different Academy Trusts, or something as simple as the many very effective Teachmeets that happen up and down the country every month, results can be shared and the implementation of best practice will spread.

So let’s work towards a brighter future for our children.  A future in which life satisfaction, well-being, resilience and happiness, not just on an individual, but a collective level, are fostered from an early age so that we can all live in a better world.

* Why looking at the positives matters: The RWS team recently visited a school in a severely deprived area, where the Headteacher and senior leadership team have achieved fantastic results, primarily by banning negative language (pupils and staff), including when talking about government initiatives, Ofsted inspections etc. How you look at situations really makes a difference!

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