The concept of happiness in a society is far from novel. The New Economics Foundation has been publishing its Happy Planet Index (HPI) since 2006. The HPI is calculated using a number of well-being and environmental impact indicators available from over 140 countries.
Since 2012, the United Nations has published an annual World Happiness Report based on “available global data on national happiness and related evidence from the emerging science of happiness, showing that the quality of people’s lives can be coherently, reliably, and validly assessed by a variety of subjective well-being measures, collectively referred to then and in subsequent reports as ‘happiness.’” Results from the World Happiness Report align closely with the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index developed by Bhutan to provide data for the development of its national policies.
So, the concepts of well-being and happiness are not restricted to individuals but also apply to countries. The same can be said for schools. Although the concept of happiness at the school level is relatively recent, it is quickly becoming accepted across Canada and elsewhere. More than ever, schools strive to provide a “well-rounded education” by finding an equilibrium between a global, holistic education and the more traditional content-focused curricula and also by providing psychologically safe environments where staff and students are engaged, can thrive and be at their best.
The question therefore is not to debate the importance of school happiness but rather how to measure it so we can then focus on increasing it by building on existing strengths.
The Mental Fitness and Resiliency Inventory (MFRI©)
Questionnaires designed to measure constructs such as well-being or happiness commonly focus on self-assessments, often using multiple choice items or a small number of open-ended subjective questions. Despite the popularity of these approaches – mostly because of their simplicity and low cost – the general public often has little faith in their results because of the overwhelming emphasis on subjective approaches which impact reliability.
In some cases, individual respondents’ data are used to calculate a group average which is then reported as being the group’s well-being or happiness. Such an approach should be dismissed because it is ill conceived. To demonstrate this, let’s imagine a mathematics test for which all students in the same class received a mark of 50%. Now let’s assume that in a different class, half the students received a mark of 100% and the other half 0 % on the same test. Of course, the class average in both classes is 50 % but no educator would dare claim that these two classes are similar.
The Positive Workplace Framework used the Mental Fitness and Resiliency Inventory (MFRI) to measure overall well-being and happiness in schools. In contrast to subjective questionnaires, the MFRI contains short, clear descriptions of 32 distinct practices that can be expected to be observed in positive school environments. The online questionnaire is completed by all staff and takes them less than ten minutes. All answers are anonymous and confidential.
The MFRI provides schools with quantitative results on their strengths across three mental fitness sub-domains (relatedness needs, competency needs, and autonomy/support needs) and five resiliency subdomains (relationship assets, professional assets, attitudinal assets, emotional intelligence assets, and adaptation assets). Respondents are asked to indicate how well each described practice is reflective of their school environment using a 5-point Likert scale where 1 = Least like my workplace, 3 = Somewhat like my workplace, and 5 = Most like my workplace. Results of the MFRI’s rigorous psychometric validation study are available.2
The MFRI report provides a profile of organizational strengths (those practices that are embedded in the school environment) and areas for development (those requiring more promotion and capacity building) related to mental fitness and resiliency.
The School Happiness Index (SHI)
Responses to the MFRI are also used to obtain the School Happiness Index (SHI), which is reported on a nine-point scale where 9 indicates a very high level of school happiness. The SHI complements the detailed school-level report by providing a holistic view of the integration of practices known to have a positive impact on the school environment and staff and student happiness in general.
Studies in francophone schools across New Brunswick show a statistically significant correlation between the SHI and student achievement on provincial assessments. Preliminary results also suggest decreased teacher absenteeism in schools with a higher SHI. This is not surprising.
Increasing levels of school happiness is not obtained at the expense of student learning. In fact, the research is clear that a happy school environment is a precursor to student success.3 If schools are to provide a well-balanced education, they must first strive to improve their overall school happiness. By administering the MFRI and obtaining their school happiness index, schools now have empirical evidence on which they can act.
Photo: Adobe Stock
First published in Education Canada, December 2019
3 S. Lyubomirsky, S. King, and L. Diener, “The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin 131, No. 6 (2005): 803-855.