Happiness lessons can make 'Cruellas' of teachers

9th January 2009 at 00:00

Trying to teach pupils to be happy is a dangerous idea that can backfire, leaving children depressed and their teachers feeling like Cruella de Vil, one expert has warned.

Carol Craig has been called Scotland's "happiness tsar". She is chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing, in Glasgow, a publicly subsidised body dedicated to improving optimism and "positive energy".

But she has severe misgivings about the systematic teaching of happiness being encouraged in schools in England and Wales through Seal, the social and emotional aspects of learning programme.

"This is actually the manipulation of people's personalities and is taking us into mass psychological experimentation," she said.

Ms Craig believes that it is dangerous to suggest that some feelings are good and others bad.

"Guilt can be a good thing because it stops you from doing bad things," she said. "We have to be careful about building up positive emotions artificially."

She also believes encouraging children to focus on themselves can create the self-obsession that is really responsible for unhappiness.

"Teachers tell me they have queues of parents saying, 'My daughter didn't get into the pantomime - you are being cruel to her'. One head told me, 'When I look in the mirror, I feel I should see Cruella de Vil or the Wicked Witch of the West. But we have 25 in a class, and they can't all be lead in the pantomime'."

According to Ms Craig, research shows that it is materialism, individualism and consumerism that actually damage individual wellbeing.

"We are living in a world where the economic system is collapsing," she said. "We have polar ice caps melting. We have major challenges facing us as human beings, and we are conveying to children that it is a terrible thing if they fall out with their pals.

"I don't think that this is a good way to encourage emotional wellbeing. I think we have to move away from this emphasis on individual happiness."


2005: The Government extends Seal, the social and emotional aspects of learning scheme, aimed at improving behaviour by teaching conflict resolution and empathy, from primaries to secondaries.

April 2006: Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, reveals that the public school will teach pupils happiness and positive psychology.

February 2007: Unicef, the United Nations' children's charity, reports that British children are the unhappiest in the developed world.

September 2007: Schools given new statutory duty to promote pupil wellbeing.

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