Education and well-being go together....
Last week BBC News reported on the results of research by the Office for National Statistics which suggested that people who are better educated are more likely to say that they are satisfied with their lives, and to feel that the things they do are worthwhile.
Among those with A level or higher qualifications, 81% rated their overall satisfaction with life as seven out of ten or more, and 85% felt positive about how worthwhile they felt the things they were doing were. Among those who left school with no qualifications, 64% rated their happiness as seven out of ten or higher.
On one level, this is hardly surprising; those who stay in education and accumulate qualifications are, after all, more likely to secure employment which they find fulfilling and which is better remunerated, allowing them a better standard of living which may well lead to positive feelings about their lives. But my thoughts, on reading the news article, is that the link between higher levels of education and positive well-being go further than this.
I remember reading a few years ago that happiness consists of three things:
- Pleasurable sensations
- Absence from unpleasant sensations (such as pain, anxiety, fear)
- Satisfaction and a sense that what we do matters.
This struck me as revealing at the time. Those who believe that winning the lottery will secure happiness are perhaps focussing on the first and second of these. Immense wealth may allow you access to pleasurable sensations. To some extent it may help you to avoid unpleasant sensations (although it can’t guarantee good health or successful relationships). As we usually associate poverty with misery, we sometimes, wrongly, assume that wealth will lead to happiness.
But it’s the third component of happiness above which is potentially the most important, and the most relevant to the ONS research. To feel truly happy, most of us need to feel that we make a difference: that our lives have purpose and meaning and that we make a contribution in some way. I would suggest that a good education increases our capacity to do this. It helps us to build a range of skills and to develop the confidence to use them in a way that leads to our feeling satisfied and stimulated. Often our professional lives, rather our personal lives, give us the ‘sense that what we do matters’. And our education helps fit us for the professional opportunities and challenges we meet.
So it isn’t surprising that those who are more highly educated have a greater sense of well-being, and it should hearten those parents who invest time and energy supporting and encouraging their children’s education to see that this is the best possible investment they can make if they want to increase their children’s chances of happiness in the future.