Teaching happiness at schools

Teaching happiness at schools

As important as I think it will be to integrate the principles of positive psychology into schools, the article below suggests we might need to be careful about how we go about teaching happiness in schools.

From The Sunday TimesSeptember 9, 2007

Happiness classes ê¢__‘–depress pupils”

Roger Waite

CLASSES in happiness and emotional wellbeing, intended to tackle ill-discipline and improve social skills, may instead leave children depressed and self-obsessed, according to a new report.

The research, which draws on the findings of more than 20 international academic studies, describes the government programme in secondary schools as a “large-scale psychological experiment”.

It finds little evidence that the classes, which encourage children to express feelings openly and empathise with others, lead to any long-term improvement in emotional wellbeing or academic success.

Ed Balls, the children’s secretary, announced last week that happiness classes would be introduced to state secondary schools after a successful two-year pilot of the programme. The technique is called Seal – Social and emotional aspects of learning.

Balls said the classes would “help to cultivate the right attitude” and would help tackle indiscipline. But the report by Carol Craig, a psychologist and chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing in Glasgow, concludes the classes risk harming some children.

“A focus on the self can create an obsession with how you feel and can lead in some kids to depression,” said Craig. ‘seal may work for some children but this is not like arithmetic or French grammar – if it doesn”t work it will lead to psychological problems.”

Craig’s conclusion was supported by Nick Emler, professor of psychology at Surrey University: “It is disturbing that the government wishes to introduce this programme without proper evaluation.”

Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College in Berkshire and a pioneer of happiness classes, defended their merits.

“You are trying to help people with long-term coping skills,” he said. “I don”t think there is any sane way to exist as a human being except to get in touch with your feelings and thoughts.”

Alan Smithers, education professor at Birmingham University, said Seal “looks like a panic measure” to tackle problems highlighted earlier this year by the Unicef table of child wellbeing in which Britain came bottom out of 21 countries.