I am sure we have all been there! You have a rubbish day so you have no motivation to work and mope around the house in your pyjamas watching endless episodes of Jeremy Kyle to remind yourself that life is not that bad. Another day the sun will be shining, you have an interesting lecture, and get a great assignment grade so skip down to the library and write an incredible piece of work that you would have never done otherwise. This raises the question of whether happiness increases motivation to learn and, therefore, academic achievement?
Research in this area is vast and has been a prevalent over a significant number of years. Greene and Noice (1988) induced a positive mood in participants through the presentation of gifts and compliments, in comparison to a neutral group, who were not presented with gifts and compliments. The participants then carried out Duncker’s (1945) candle task to assess creative thinking and problem solving. They found that participants in the positive mood condition were better at solving the candle problem than those in the neutral condition, and concluded that positive affect facilitates problem solving and enhances creativity.
Additionally, Fredrickson and Banigan (2005) investigated that broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 2004) hypothesis that positive emotion increases the attention given to a task and thoughts and actions. Participants viewed a film that either provoked amusement, contentment, neutrality, anger, or anxiety. Attention was measured using a visual processing task, and thought and action were measured using a Twenty Statements Test. They found that negative emotions reduced thought-action repertoires and that positive emotions increased attention.
These previous findings demonstrate the importance of positive mood in creativity, problem solving, attention, and thoughts and actions, which can all be applicable to learning in schools and higher education. However, one of the most compelling reports comes from looking at emotions directly in education. Pekrun, Goetz, Wolfram, and Perry (2002) found that emotions significantly influence students learning strategies, cognitive resources, self-regulation, motivation, and academic achievement.
These findings seem to suggest that happiness can influence academic success, yet the current education system does not excite students and does not promote happiness. Selligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, and Linkins (2009) recognised this problem and sought to teach skills that would increase positive emotion, resilience, and engagement. After spending 15 years of investigating effective ways of increasing wellbeing in students, they found positive emotion enhances classroom learning and can be taught in schools.
However, it is important to note that the resources required for this would be extensive and teachers would need to be trained in delivering the skills to students to encourage positive attitudes in the classrooms. Additionally, with the current emphasis on following a strict curriculum with limited timescales, it may prove to be difficult to implement when teachers are already under pressure to achieve results.
In spite of the few drawbacks noted, I feel that we need to implement these methods in both schools and higher education to increase the wellbeing of students. A potential idea could be weekly classes in teaching students skills to increase their happiness and wellbeing. I was surprised that this could be taught, but the research suggests that we can, and we should therefore embrace this new method of helping students achieve the motivation, engagement, and happiness for the promotion of future success.
Duncker, K. (1945). On problem solving. Psychological Monographs, 58, 5 (Whole No. 270)
Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367-1377. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1512
Fredrickson, B. L., & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19(3), 313-332. doi:10.1080/02699930441000238
Greene, T. R., & Noice, H. (1988). Influence of positive affect upon creative thinking and problem solving in children. Psychological Reports, 63, 895-898. doi: 10.2466/pr0.19188.8.131.525
Pekrun, R., Goetz, T., Wolfram, T., & Perry, R. P. (2002). Academic emotions in students’ self-regulated learning and achievement: A program of qualitative and quantitative research. Educational Psychologist, 37(2), 91-105. doi:10.1207/S15326985EP3702_4
Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Well-being in schools. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311. doi:10.1080/03054980902934563