Academic achievement and happiness

The Department for Schools, Children and Families conducted a study in 2009 along with Ofsted called the Tellus4 Survey.  The survey aimed to assess the happiness levels of 150,000 15-16 year olds across England.  They focused on five key areas of wellbeing including levels of emotional health, substance abuse and bullying along with how often teenagers volunteered in their local community and took part in sport. The results surprisingly highlighted Knowsley (Merseyside) as the happiest borough in England achieving 62.7% happiness despite its low economic status with high levels of crime along with increasing unemployment and homelessness issues.  Additionally Knowsley sits at the very bottom of both the health and education league tables where only 40.9% of its teenagers achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE level compared to the national average of 59.4%.  Other more affluent boroughs in England such as Richmond found their teenagers to be less happy achieving only 49.6% happiness yet these same teenagers succeed in the academic sense with 62.6% of them achieving five A*-C grades.

Knowsley teenagers

Teenagers from Trafford reported less happiness (54.7%) than Knowsley teenagers yet succeed academically sitting near the top of the education league at 72.4%.  Similar to Trafford the teenagers from London’s Kensington and Chelsea, who remain top of the education league table, are less happy (52%) but still manage to achieve more at GCSE level with 79.6% of teenagers achieving five A*-C grades.  The results suggest a strong connection to the reported strong relationships of Knowlsey teenagers as a key factor in their levels of happiness.  A high percentage of Knowsley teenagers reported to have strong relationships with both their parents and their friends and had people they could turn to if they found themselves in trouble and 72% of Knowlsey teenagers said they had never been bullied at school.

Happiness and relationships

Research conducted in 2007 (Oshi, Diener, & Lucas, 2007) support these findings.  This research concluded that there was a significant correlation between high levels of happiness and successful close relationships, similar to the Tellus4 survey results.  Despite this they also found that people who are too happy achieve less in important areas of life such as education (Oshi, Diener, & Lucas, 2007).  They suggested there is an optimal level of happiness that would enable achievement and success in key areas of life. In their review of four longitudinal studies they found, based on 5 point scale (5 being happiest), sitting around 3.5-4 leads to higher earnings, and satisfaction with life (Oshi, Diener and Lucas, 2007). This supports the aforementioned results as the two boroughs who remain top of the education league (Trafford and Kensington and Chelsea) reported to be slightly less happy than their Knowsley counterparts.

The positive of negative

There is a plethora of research that suggests high happiness levels enable people to perform better and be more productive (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener et al., 2005) with the assumption that happy individuals are successful individuals (Oshi, Diener, & Lucas, 2007), yet this doesn’t seem to be the case for Knowsley teenagers and educators must consider what is missing that is preventing these teenagers from succeeding academically.  Research suggests happiness creates positive emotion and moods which enables people to build upon their resources and achieve more through goal setting (Cantor, et al.1991), however, the concern is that individuals with high levels of happiness may not ever feel the need to change and may even avoid raising their expectations if this has an adverse effect on their happiness.  Negative mood and dissatisfaction with life pushes us to make changes and improvements in our lives and motivates us to strive for more (Oshi, Diener, & Lucas, 2007). There remains to be a gap in research into the effects of chronic levels of happiness on individuals and we need to accept that being happy all of the time may not actually be the best thing for us if we truly want to flourish in life.


Oishi, S., Diener, E., & Lucas, R. E. (2007). The optimal level of well-being: Can we be too happy? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 346-360.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005) The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does Happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.

Cantor, N., Norem, J. Langston, C., Zirkel, S., Fleeson, W., & Cook-Flannagan, C. (1991). Life tasks and daily life experience. Journal of Personality, 59, 425-451.


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’


Share This