Richard Layard certainly thinks so. In a new article in the Summer 2007 edition of the LSE magazine CentrePiece, the happiness guru argues that a major purpose of schools must be to help develop good and happy people - especially at a time when growing numbers of children are suffering from emotional disturbance. He calls for "educational revolution in which a central purpose of our schools is to teach young people about the main secrets of happiness for which we have empirical evidence". See: Happiness and the teaching of values (PDF).
50% of young people say that their main ambition is to be happy: it’s the most commonly stated ambition and very sensible too (Park et al, 2004). Let’s help them. I have no doubt that new institutions will also develop for adults. But from a public policy perspective, we must start with schools. This is a good moment. People are worried about young people from many angles. We have good tools with which to help them. The key need is to create a profession of PSHE teachers, who give evidence-based teaching that changes lives, and that goes on to 18.
But yesterday's Financial Times leader, Happiness lessons, is sceptical:
The first problem is that happiness is not a teachable subject. It is famously elusive and may be unattainable. Pursuing it as an aim is difficult since it is more readily gained as a side-product of some other achievement or condition.
Happiness is also too varied to teach: a single set of tools will not work for everyone. One pupil may derive great pleasure from being kind to others - another from being the person on the receiving end of that kindness. Where one childmay be happily fulfilled taking ona tough challenge, another mayfind more happiness with a less driven approach.
Comments welcome. Can we really teach happiness? And should we?