In September 2006, we made the decision to launch a course in happiness and well-being for our 4th and 5th Form students. This decision sparked enormous - and unexpected - interest nationally and internationally, which several years on has yet to die away.
At face value, deciding to teach happiness and well-being seems bold, but in many senses, it is an obvious and some might argue fundamental requirement in a school’s educational provision. Our course has a very simple aim: to promote the flourishing and excellence of the young people at Wellington. Instead of focusing on disaster prevention, we educate about how our students might capitalise upon their human resources and make the best of their potential.
Well-being is defined by the Government Office for Science Foresight Report as ‘a dynamic state, in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community. It is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil their personal and social goals and achieve a sense of purpose in their society.’
There is a growing body of scientific evidence on the causal factors around happiness and well-being, which can then be applied in work with individuals and institutions. Having a better understanding of how to increase the likelihood of happiness with life, and how to channel the emotional pains of set-backs en route, are the sort of skills that can substantially improve an individual's progress.
Previous research has shown, for example, that becoming involved in challenging and absorbing activities is important to people's ability to cope better with life. As a successful independent boarding and day school which focuses on an 'all-round' education, Wellington already offers its pupils a wide range of such activities.
Our course is based on 6 elements which serve to promote well-being:
- Physical health
- Positive relationships
- Perspective (developing a psychological immune system)
- The world (living sustainably)
- Meaning and purpose
All students in the first 4 years of the school receive the equivalent of 1 hour per fortnight of well-being lessons which also cover all PSHE requirements. Each lesson presents a skill that students can employ to enhance their well-being from advice on getting to sleep to more complex cognitive methods for dealing with adversity. Everything that we teach is based on reliable research conducted by some of the most eminent academics in the field. The L6th also enjoys a series of lectures given by inspiring speakers designed to help our students reflect on the potential for making the most of their lives. There is more information about the content of the course available on our intranet Well-being pages.
We hold conferences on 'Teaching Happiness and Well-Being in Schools' as you will see from our conference programme. We have also started running well-being taster classes for parents to enable them to experience at first hand some of the well-being lessons that Wellington students enjoy.
For more information on the ideas underpinning the teaching of happiness and well-being, see ‘Learning to Ride Elephants’ by Ian Morris, published by Continuum Books.