Depression rates today are nearly ten times higher than they were 50 years ago, while the mean onset age of depression has sunk from 29.5 years to 14.5 years during this period (Seligman, 2002). Whether we like it or not, wellbeing is somewhat counter cultural. Schools and workplaces are not typically overflowing with people who are thriving in terms of their wellbeing – and this has a cost on worker productivity in the corporate world and academic achievement in education. But all of that is really a conversation about disease, not wellbeing.
Wellbeing is a well-known and well researched determinant of success. It increases our ability to function. According to a meta-analysis involving almost 300 studies and 275,000 people worldwide, wellbeing leads to success in every domain in our lives, including marriage, friendship, careers, businesses, creativity and health (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). Wellbeing leads to thriving in social, work, physical, psychological and personal domains. In one study, the wellbeing of employees was measured, and these employees were followed for 18 months. Those who were happier at the start ended up receiving higher evaluations and more pay later on (Staw, Sutton, & Pelled, 1994).
In a different study of Catholic nuns, researchers found that those who were more overtly joyful in their journals at the age of 20, lived an average of 10 years longer than those who were more neutral or negative in their journals (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001).
Based on this research, it is easy to see why wellbeing is an essential ingredient to thriving at school and beyond. Wellbeing for schools is not just about looking after our staff and students by helping them gain more peace, joy and happiness in their lives, although these are important. Wellbeing training for schools equips people with the skills they need to achieve more every day, and so improve performance outcomes for our staff and students.
This is why “cutting-edge software companies have foosball tables in their employee lounge, why Yahoo! has an in-house massage parlour and why Google engineers are encouraged to bring their dogs to work” (Achor, 2010).
“Students who thrive and flourish demonstrate stronger academic performance” (Norrish, Williams, O'Connor, & Robinson, 2013). Students with high wellbeing gain higher grades and lower rates of absence (Suldo, Thalji, & Ferron, 2011), as well as higher self-control and lower procrastination(Howell, 2009) and more creative, open-minded thinking (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005). Indeed, positive education is a complementary goal, rather than a competing goal with academic performance. We can cultivate our own wellbeing if we use some of the scientifically proven methods of positive education.
Our wellbeing and our performance are close cousins indeed!