Do Happiness and Well-Being Influence Academic Achievement?


Research from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education shows that unhappy students are liable to have equally-unhappy GPAs.

Christina Hinton, an adjunct lecturer at Harvard, found correlations between students’ happiness and their motivation and achievement. The research was done at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, during the 2013-2014 school year.

The study include approximately 450 4th to 12th graders who responded to questionnaires. The survey also showed that student happiness depends upon relationships they form with teachers and classmates, reports Deseret News National’s Menachem Wecker.

Hinton says school is often looked upon as a “necessary pill to suffer, when, in fact, if you support students’ happiness, they are more likely to do well.” Hinton defines happiness as “frequent positive feelings accompanied by an overall sense that one’s life has meaning.”

Hinton is quick to stress that her research does not show that being happy causes students to have good grades. Rather, it is an average effect – if a student is happy, the student is more likely to do well.

Ellen Condict, a high school teacher at Hillsdale Academy in Michigan, advises parents to give their children external motivations and expectations to live up to, as well as developing the desire to work hard. Jonathan Dalton, a psychologist and director of the Center for Anxiety and Behavioral Change, says parents should emphasize their children’s efforts:

“Parents should cultivate and cradle their child’s curiosity and creativity. There are no columns for these on a report card, but they are the cornerstones of a love of learning,” he says. “If a child truly loves the process of learning, they will value their work and it will be reflected in their performance.”

Hinton and others caution parents not to overstate the study’s findings. The school at which the research was conducted is an elite private school in the DC area, hardly making it a sample representative of the nation’s students. But all agree that if a child is valued and appreciated and enjoys learning, he or she will likely perform well.

Experts add that much time is spent prepping for and taking standardized tests, yet the study showed that happiness correlated with GPA, not standardized testing. Condict said:

“It’s hard to connect standardized testing with either love or respect.” However, she continues, “There are plenty of students and parents with an unhealthy obsession with GPA.”

On the other hand, a 2009 study at Arizona State University found that being happy may harm a student’s study patterns and grades. The research acknowledged that happy students are likely have higher levels of commitment to school and that commitment would probably result in higher grades. But a happier person might also be involved in social activities, spending more time with friends and less time studying.

Sarah Anjum Bari of The Daily Star says, however, that the influence of happiness on commitment to studying might cancel out the possibility of distractions.

According to research at Morgan State University in Maryland, “happy or moderately happy students tended to cope just as well as those students who had high happiness scores.” The happiness theory does, however, seem to affect younger students who do perform better academically when in a positive environment is in place, as stated in the research done at Harvard, writes Bari.

The India Times reports that according to a global survey from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, children are more likely to be happy with their friendships in Europe and more likely to be happy with their schools if they live in Africa.

The survey was made up of 50,000 children from 15 countries who answered questions concerning the key aspects in their lives.

“This report is the culmination of many years of work to understand more about children’s views about their lives and well-being,” said professor Asher Ben-Arieh, study co-author and co-chair of the non-profit International Society of Child Indicators.

Overall happiness levels were not that different between girls and boys, but there were gender differences in self-satisfaction (body, appearance, self-confidence) in Europe and South Korea, but not in Asia, Africa, and South America. Children reported that they spent much more time on homework in Estonia and Poland than in South Korea and England.

Polish, Norwegian, and Israeli children spent the most time on sports and exercising. Children in Algeria, Nepal, and South Africa spent much more time caring of siblings and other family members than did those in Germany, Turkey, and South Korea. Over 10% of children in Norway, England, and Estonia live in two different homes, a pattern which is rarely seen in other countries in the survey.

The percentage of children with very high senses of well-being varied from 78% in Turkey and 77% in Romania and Colombia to about 40% in South Korea.