April 28th, 2010

Sustainability, Happiness and Education

By Catherine O’Brien


Seventeen years ago, Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 (United Nations [UN], 1993) outlined a plan of action regarding education and sustainable development. However, progress in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has been very slow and the United Nations declared 2005-2014 as the UN Decade for Education and Sustainable Development (UN, 2002) to draw greater attention to the essential role that education should play in improving the quality of life of current and future generations. In a survey of current practice, a UNESCO report questioned whether education is the problem or the solution (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2005a). The same report recommended reorienting teacher education to sustainability. Informing teachers and students about sustainability is essential. A further substantial aim is to introduce education that fosters sustainable behaviour and motivates teachers to integrate sustainability into their personal life and classroom. An ideal place to start is with a topic that has universal appeal to educators and students: happiness. The burgeoning field of positive psychology and happiness studies have remarkable implications for sustainability education and education as a whole. One of the most intriguing outcomes from research on happiness is that authentic happiness has very little to do with material wealth and over consumption. Thus, through happiness studies we have an opportunity to introduce principles and practices that also align with sustainability education. A new concept, sustainable happiness, was developed by O’Brien (2005) to merge principles from sustainability and findings from happiness studies. It is defined as “happiness that contributes to individual, community and/or global well-being without exploiting other people, the environment or future generations.” The concept extends happiness research and reinforces the relationship to sustainability and our interdependence with all life on the planet. Furthermore, it underscores the fact that each of us may contribute positively or adversely to the well-being of others and the natural environment. Sustainable happiness can be incorporated into any area of the curriculum as well as school policies and practice. Sustainable happiness is a course in the teacher education program at Cape Breton

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Comments (1)

  1. Koh Ming Wei Koh Ming Wei says:

    This reminds me of the work of Tsuneburo Makuguchi, a little known Japanese pedagogue from the 1930s.
    He proposes Happiness as the purpose of education.