There are plenty of things we could be doing to improve students outcomes. Training teachers more thoroughly, giving schools more funding to work with, teaching students effective study strategies.
But the impact of these interventions will be limited if students aren’t happy. The research that has been done indicates that students do best in school when they have good mental health and are satisfied with their lives. No matter how good schools and teachers are, students’ academic achievement suffers when they’re unhappy.
For example, take a study that was just published looking at 606 students in the Philippines. The study found that how students rated their subjective happiness predicted several measures of how they were faring in school.
Students who reported being happier were more engaged, both in terms of how they behaved in school and how they felt about school on an emotional level. Moreover, they were more resil ient in school, meaning that being happy may help students bounce back from educational obstacles. By making students more engaged and resilient, happiness seems to set students up to get the most out of their education.
This is the most recent study to find a link between happiness and classroom performance, but it’s far from the only.
A 2015 study of 821 middle school students in the United States showed that life satisfaction and academic performance seem to have a reciprocal influence on each other. Specifically, students with higher life satisfaction are more likely to get higher grades in the future, and students who get higher grades are more likely to see their life satisfaction go up. In other words, happiness and school outcomes can reinforce each other to create a vicious or a virtuous cycle.
The takeaway is that when we talk about improving educational outcomes, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of mental health. Students who are happy and satisfied with their lives tend to be more engaged with their schoolwork, more resilient to academic setbacks, and ultimately more likely to get good grades.