Does your productivity level increase when you are happy and in good spirits? If your answer is in the affirmative, it is the same for most people. Feeling good about life and living can improve productivity, academic performance, and the overall quality of our lives significantly. In fact, studies reveal that health is strongly linked with happiness all over the world.
According to the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, “Research involving representative samples of 95% of the world’s population suggests that “emotions matter to health everywhere.” Adding that, contrary to popular misconception, “the emotion-health connection is not unique to certain countries, regions, or levels of economic development.”
Happiness is the umbrella term for the mental states in which positive emotions, bliss, and ecstatic feelings are experienced often resulting in a sense of contentment. These mental states impact our physical well-being and some studies have gone on to suggest that it may affect longevity. A 2019 study involving 70,000 people over approximately 4 decades revealed that lifespan increased by about 10 to 15%, (i.e. 8 – 10 years) for happier and more optimistic people. Hence, it is not the temporary feeling of low motivation which comes with unhappiness that should bother us, but the long-term effects of being unhappy.
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Coined by Abraham Maslow in the 1950s, positive psychology, embodies the use of upbeat psychology to improve the quality of human life through positive emotions, relationships, and accomplishments. One key aspect of positive psychology is the science of happiness. In commemoration of the UN International Day of Happiness — 20th of March— let us examine some interesting research findings about how educators can use the science of happiness to improve students’ academic performance in universities.
The science of happiness has been gaining attention in recent years as a way to improve mental health and well-being. This has been particularly relevant in the context of students, who are often under a lot of pressure to perform academically and socially. Researchers have been exploring the ways in which interventions based on positive psychology can help students manage stress and improve their overall well-being. Professor of Developmental Psychology and Society at the University of Bristol, Bruce Hood, has created a course known as The Science of Happiness. As part of the course, first-year students periodically meet in groups known as Happiness Hubs to carry out practical activities recommended in the course for improved mental states and better academic performances
With decades of experience, Professor Bruce Hood has gathered that “the biggest predictor of adult happiness is childhood happiness.” In general, happy children are more likely to turn out as happy adults. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies examined the effectiveness of a six-week positive psychology intervention for young adults to become happier. The intervention included activities such as keeping a gratitude journal, engaging in random acts of kindness, and practicing mindfulness. The study found that the intervention was effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and improving overall life satisfaction.
Another study, published in the Academy of Management Learning and Education revealed a correlation between happiness and academic performance in college students. The study found that students who reported higher levels of happiness also tended to have higher GPAs, even when controlling for factors like cognitive ability, aptitude, and gender. These findings are supported by a growing body of research on the benefits of positive psychology interventions for mental health and well-being.
Like Professor Bruce at the University of Bristol, other academicians are applying the science of happiness in practical ways to help students. For example, The University of California, Berkeley via its Greater Good Science Center, offers resources like courses, podcasts, empathy, and mindfulness tools to students to help them improve their performance.
Overall, the science of happiness offers promising insights and tools that professors can use to improve students’ mental health for better academic performance. By advising students to incorporate positive psychology interventions into their daily lives, teachers help students to build resilience and improve their ability to manage stress, leading to better academic and social outcomes.
Ehi-kowoicho Ogwiji is a storyteller and science writer who advocates for a science-literate Africa. She aspires to be a science development communicator and leader of important conversations around gender imbalances in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine) in Africa and around the world. She writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Connect with her on social media @ogwijiehi.