Coaching & Leadership Development

Can Happiness be Taught in our Schools?

Can Happiness be Taught in our Schools?


This Blog comes from Vanessa King, Author, Board Member at Action for Happiness and Keynote Speaker at our inaugural Education for the Soul Conference on the 19th October 2017.


Wellbeing and mood are catching. We’ve probably all experienced our own moods being impacted by that of people around us, whether positively or negatively or both.  But the ripple effect is even greater than that.


A large study on the East Coast of the US found that positive mood states spread through our real social networks by three degrees of separation. That means we are impacting people we have never met and they are impacting us. Our health behaviours have a ripple effect too. This suggests that we have a shared responsibility for happiness and wellbeing. This doesn’t mean we have to be jumping for joy all of the time but it does suggest we perhaps need to be more aware of how we are feeling and know what we can do to manage it.


This is especially important for school leaders. You will likely be aware that very little of what we communicate is down to the words we say. How we say those words and our general demeanor count for much more. So it’s no good talking about the importance of wellbeing, we have to live it. In others words, we have to put our own oxygen mask on first in order to help those around us.


This is no longer a nice to have. As well as increasingly demanding jobs, a growing body of research evidence is showing that our happiness or psychological wellbeing can impact in many ways.


For example, experiencing positive or pleasant emotional states broadens our perpetual fields making us more open and trusting of others, more open to ideas, be better at creative problem solving and see more options. All of which builds our resilience, enjoyment and ability to perform well. If that’s not motivation enough, if we are happier we are likely to have better physical health, better relationships, higher productivity at work and contribute to our community more.


So is there a magic formula or prescription for being happier? Well no. We are all different and we need different things at different times, so we need a menu. That’s why at the social movement, Action for Happiness, we’ve developed the 10 Keys to Happier Living. Many things impact our wellbeing, not all of them within our control, so the 10 Keys focus on the areas research evidence shows taking action in that make a difference. Within each key there are lots of evidence-based ideas to try.



The first five keys incorporate the original 5 Ways to Wellbeing developed by the New Economics Foundation in 2008 as part of the Government’s Foresight project on Mental Capital for the 21st Century. These are primarily actions we take in the outside world that impact how we feel on the inside.


The second five factors were added to reflect the evidence on the internal mindsets and habits that impact how we feel and what we do – such as resilient thinking, cultivating optimism, focusing on strengths and cultivating our sense of meaning and purpose.


Since we developed the 10 Keys to Happier Living in 2010 we’ve been amazed at how widely they’ve been used. Many, many individuals around the world have used them to inspire personal action and for a regular wellbeing action audit. They’ve been used by people recovering from depression and emerging from bereavement.


Workplaces, including schools and colleges, have run campaigns, courses and programmes for their staff, developed leadership and management programmes based on them and used them to influence policies and processes. Cafés have created community hubs around them. Some health authorities are even running 10 Keys programmes.


In education settings, the applications of the 10 Keys have been particularly creative. As well as 10 Keys workshops and courses to build staff wellbeing, teachers have developed lessons inspired by them.


For example, Adrian Bethune a Year 8 teacher at Westfield Primary School, Berkhamsted, used the first of the Keys – ‘Giving – do things for others’, to turn Anti-Bullying Week into ‘It’s Cool to be Kind’ week with lots of engaging activities across the whole school. (He’s since introduced activities around the other Keys inside and outside the classroom.)


A high school RE teacher used the 10 Keys as a basis for students to analyse the world’s main religious faiths to explore what it really means to live well. A curriculum for Key Stage 2 primary school students teaching 10 Keys skills has been developed by a teacher and child psychologist and has been shown to have a positive impact on both student and staff wellbeing. This curriculum is being taken up by a growing number of schools nationally and internationally.


Led by Principal Stuart Rimmer, East Coast FE College in the East of England has embedded the 10 Keys within its culture and the curriculum for students. And the list goes on.


On 19th October 2017, I spoke at “Education for the Soul” Conference, introducing the 10 Keys to Happier Living in more detail and sharing some practical tools leaders could apply personally to maintain and enhance their own wellbeing and resilience, in the hope that the 10 Keys could help to inspire happier school environments for staff and students alike.


As scientist, writer and buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard once said: “Happiness is a skill that can be learned.”




On the 19th October 2017, Vanessa King joined as we hosted Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for this new “Education for the Soul” Conference designed to help leaders to explore and discuss what matters most to them (their values, hopes and passion) and locate ways of leading that are aligned to themselves and their hope for their schools.


It is fair to say, the day was a very special one and a huge success with so many school leaders and education professionals joining us for this. It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.


Following the success of this conference, every year we now host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.

The next Education for the Soul” Conference will take place in October 2022 and will feature a new selection of expert speakers and workshop hosts, who will be sharing their insights into how school leaders can look after their own well-being, get the most out of those they lead and deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.


The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of our previous “Education for the Soul” conferences and seek to explore how school leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose.


As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and their deepest values. Above all, “Education for the Soul” 2022 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:


– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff

– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and personal development

– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others


Learn More


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