The Pursuit of Happyness. Can it be caught? Or taught?
|Working title: 'The Pursuit of Money'|
I’ve written about this before, mainly because of two reasons: firstly, there is an annual news vacuum which journalists frequently abhor, filling it with stories about scientists discovering its secret formula (in a laboratoire, no doubt); secondly politicians are obsessed with Happiness indices as a comparative means of assessing relative happiness between nations. This of course ignores the obvious, that awareness of another’s happiness is, for some people, enough to destroy it in oneself. ‘It is not enough,’ Gore Vidal diabolically opined, ‘To succeed. Others must fail.’ This is particularly true if someone is happier than you, or if you are from the United Kingdom, where the joy of another is viewed suspiciously by many as a depletion of their right to complain their own failure to achieve their heart’s ambitions.Another reason I come back to this is because there are those in education who frequently return to the claim that the purpose of education is to make children happy. This is often expressed by the sentiment that lessons should be engaging and enjoyable, and if they are not, then the lesson is a bad one. This is a lovely thought. But it suffers from the paradox of the inane reversal: nobody is seriously claiming that lessons should be deliberately made boring or disengaging. You hope that ALL your lessons are interesting and switch the kids on.
|Sir Ken Robinson. 'Happy'.|
But the main distraction and obfuscation in this argument is in the definition of happiness itself. Can it, as Sir Kenneth suggests, above, be possessed? Is it être or avois? Funnily enough, Great Minds have considered this question before, so we don’t have to grope around the DfE best practise closet to work it out. Aristotle considered happiness to consist of flourishing in a flourishing community (Eudaimonia); that the greatest and most valuable form of happiness consisted of developing your talents and your virtues, and becoming a valuable member of a community, however abstractly one defines it. So I flourish by developing myself as a teacher, by being a better teacher; I obtain something more rewarding than mere sensual pleasure by doing so- I am satisfied. I surf a crest where challenge and development crescendo into each other in a sublime synthesis. This concept is well known to computer games designers, who try to make sure that games are neither too hard nor too easy for competitors to be deterred or bored by their activities. The perfect mean is the goal, throughout each level, and in many ways it is for us too: to be challenged enough to be tested, but not so much we give up and sink.
|Mr Happy. 'Happy,' allegedly.|
I have run nightclubs in Soho; I am familiar with several forms of pleasures; I have also known disaster from within and without. I am, in other words, just like everyone else. And my experience (with which Aristotle has been good enough to agree) is that few things valuable don’t require struggle and loss; that pleasure for its own sake is the mission of a moron; that the greatest rewards often come, like the sorrows of a parent, or the sleepless nights of the undergraduate- under the shadow of the thresher.It is through knowing defeat that we understand winning. It is through suffering that we value the suffering of others, and learn to detest it. Happiness, pursued for its own sake, is the most miserable thing of all. Comfort is universally appreciated, but past a certain point where our basic needs are met, we must understand that comfort is not all there is to being human. The job of a government is, at least partially, to see that the community’s survival needs are met. The job of education is to teach children. We can’t teach them to be happy because you should only teach what you’re an expert in, and who amongst us is an expert in happiness? Or is happy? And what does it mean?
You want children to be independent learners, as is so painfully fashionable these days? Far safer that we teach children to be wise. Let them make their own mistakes. Don’t make them make yours.Let them work out what happy is.