The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being

By Derek Bok | Go to book overview
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9
EDUCATION

People often misjudge what will bring them enduring happi- ness or pain.1 It stands to reason, then, that any serious attempt to increase well-being should give a prominent place to education. Schools and universities are the obvi- ous institutions to assume this responsibility by trying to cultivate interests and supply the knowledge that will help young people make more enlightened choices about how to live their lives.*

Researchers exploring happiness have done much to identify the activities and behaviors that tend to contribute most to an enjoy- able and satisfying life. Among these pursuits, work and career are undoubtedly important. Employment is essential for most people if only to earn the money they need to survive and enjoy much else in life. The lack of a job can cause acute distress, a point brought home most vividly when workers are laid off. For many people, work is not merely a means to other ends but an absorbing and deeply satisfying activity as well. For many more, it is a source of friends and companionship. It also brings self-respect, helps people grow and mature, and gives meaning and purpose to many lives.

That said, work is far from the only source of happiness. For a majority of people, it is probably not the most important. Daniel Kahneman has discovered through experience sampling that al- most all of the enjoyable activities of the day tend to occur outside one's job—in leisure and active recreation, meals with family and

* Some readers may not instinctively associate the work of educational institutions with
the activities of government. Yet almost 90 percent of all high school students attend public
institutions, and the same is true of almost three-quarters of the students who enroll in col-
leges and universities.

-156-

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