Happiness and school: Which would you prefer?

Have you ever shared your concern that your child is not happy at school only to be met with statements like “but every child is unhappy” or “I didn’t like school either but we all have to do it”?

It seems that happiness is something we are willing to trade off in order for our children to receive an education, but does it need to be this way? Is their happiness now simply the price we pay for potential happiness later?

Now you might say happiness is a transient state so of course there’s no need to chase that, but time and time again when parents are asked what they want for their children it’s “for them to be happy”.

So how come we’re so willing to forgoe that pursuit of happiness in the moment, now, in favour of the potential of happiness we think a good education will bring?

If we ignore socio-economic factors for now (though this is a major major element and I will come back to this another day) and look at a more philosophical argument it seems to me that this trade off response boils down to believing 3 things:

  1. School = education (one means the other)
  2. Education is necessary (therefore school is necessary)
  3. Our children’s happiness is a ‘nice to have’ and can be temporarily sacrificed when necessary (ie. in order to get through school)

So if education is necessary and school IS education then unhappiness at school is seen as an unfortunate side effect, but not one where much can be done, bar trying to help the individual cope better.


If they can afford it individual families can try and pay for ways to mitigate the situation, eg. counselling, coaching, meditation apps etc. but the system remains untouched. If they can’t afford it, well, tough luck.


Education is so much larger and richer than ‘what we are taught at school’, and we don’t stop learning when we leave the school grounds or the bell goes. If you realise that education does not automatically mean school doesn’t that change the game?


When you make school optional you no longer have to trade off a child’s happiness now in order to achieve a shot at future happiness because school is now only one of many options available. If school is optional and your child is unhappy you can find other ways to provide an education, ways that suit your child, ways that prioritise your particular child’s wellbeing, ways that can actively bring joy back into their lives.

It all starts with realising education is not confined to school, and that school is, therefore, completely optional.

So as a society we get to choose; should school, the way it is, be the preferred option?

Or do we want a better selection of choices that reflect current understanding, the children in front of us, and the future ahead?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.