Can happiness be taught?

In order to teach students to live happily, Wellington College in England pioneered the happiness curriculum. The purpose of this article is to analyze the concept of happiness in the book 'Teaching Happiness and Well-being in Schools' by Ian Morris, a representative figure of the British happiness curriculum, in order to judge whether happiness can be taught. The paper points out that Morris' perspective of happiness has undergone transformation, beginning with a direct inheritance from positive psychology, and emphasizing the adjustment of the subject's mindset. In the middle stage, he adopts Aristotle's theory of happiness in action, regarding happiness as a natural feeling and state experienced after activities by the subject. In the latter stage, it is clearly asserted that happiness is an activity according to virtue and that the happiness curriculum should be the foundation of character education. Overall, the Morris Happiness curriculum can be seen as a complex of positive psychology and Aristotle's theory of happiness. Basically, the modules of the well-being curriculum are drawn from the key themes of positive psychology at the beginning, emphasizing that students learn happiness skills that have been proven to be effective, and then changing to underline that these themes must be connected to the development of personal virtue. At this point, happiness lessons and character education become inseparable. This article concludes that happiness can be taught and needs to be taught, but that given the multiplicity of happiness, it is also necessary to examine the concept of happiness reflected in the teaching of happiness from a philosophical perspective.

Happiness is an attractive topic, and almost no one would deny that the pursuit of happiness is an important goal in our life. Recently, the topic of happiness has received a great deal of exposure in both academia and public policy fields, and some even use the term 'happiness industry' to describe this grand occasion. The former field has seen the university courses on happiness and the release of best-selling books such as Happiness: Lessons from a new science, while the latter includes the National Happiness Index promoted by the King of Bhutan. As a result, there has been a 'happiness shift' in British education policy, with clear attention focused on the development of the 'flourishing child' and on how to help educated people lead happy lives.

Wellington College was the first school in the UK to incorporate happiness courses into its syllabus, and the first courses were planned and taught by the teacher Ian Morris in 2006. The UK government began to bring happy learning into state schools. Happiness is a particularly important and eternal topic in the history of human thought. However, what is happiness? There are divergent perspectives that need to be clarified. Especially in the context of educational policy, different viewpoints on happiness could have a substantial and significant impact on educational practice and young people's lives, and cannot be ignored.

This article uses Ian Morris's 2009 and 2015 editions of Teaching Happiness and Well-Being in Schools as the subject of analysis to clarify why happiness courses are needed. What is the specific content of the happiness curriculum and the implied concept of happiness? The study found that Morris advocates for the teaching of happiness and well-being in schools. The study revealed that Morris advocates a 'philosophy of education based on well-being,' which claims a return to the original purpose of education, which is to help learners think and live a happy life. Furthermore, happiness is not simply a natural product of educational activities, but needs to be explicitly taught and guided. Therefore, happiness can be taught and must be taught. The two versions of Morris' happiness curriculum cover topics that do not differ greatly, but are basically centered on the main topics in positive psychology, such as body and mind, emotions, relationships, meaning and purpose, and so forth. The teaching model follows a three-stage cycle, consisting of noticing, action, and reflection. The learning outcomes of the entire happiness program are centered on the acquisition of proven well-being skills.

One of the contributions of this article is to analyze, by means of philosophical analysis, the concept of happiness adopted in Morris's Happiness class, including its transformation from the initial positive psychology perspective, which focuses on the adjustment of the subject's mind, to the adoption of Aristotle's action theory of happiness, and finally to the later stage, which claims that happiness is an activity in accordance with virtue. Overall, Morris’ Happiness course is a complex of positive psychology and Aristotle's viewpoint of happiness. Ultimately, the study points out that, in terms of the multiplicity and divergence of happiness, the Happiness class also needs to examine its embodied view of happiness through a philosophical perspective.

The application and value of this study is twofold: first, the specific happiness skills can be used for teaching in Taiwanese schools; second, the arguments and empirical evidence regarding the combination of virtue and happiness can be used as a response to the question of 'why should I be virtuous' in character education in Taiwan.


Yi-Lin Chen Associate Professor | Department of Education

Yi-Lin Chen, Associate Professor in the Department of Education, National Taiwan Normal University. Dr. Chen received her Ph.D. degree from the Institute of Education at University College London in 2010. She is interested in philosophical study of educational issues, particularly Aristotelian virtue ethics, character education, and the ramifications of happiness study for education.