Children’s Education for Happiness Then and Now

Children’s Education for Happiness Then and Now

‘Teaching only fills heads with information but education makes you grow. It does not give quantity but quality. It helps a rose turn into a true rose. It helps children find their selves and evolve.’

Peter Muller

Children’s Happiness – education for happiness

For every human being, happiness is the balm for the soul, the inner motivating power, the foundation of their creativity, the motor of their actions and the real meaning of their life. Happiness in children forms the future, because those who are happy as children can find the purpose of their lives sooner, have goals and are ready to act. They are lively and throw themselves into life with much enthusiasm. Education for happiness is not simply a goal, it is a mission for parents, teachers and governments.


This is the mission of the IWEN Happiness Lessons Programme.

“There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.”

Is happiness a question of upbringing? How can a happy child be described?

In today’s world, happiness is a precious treasure. To own it, you have to cleanse your soul. Cleansing is not a simple process because a great part of humanity strongly pursues pleasures (eating and drinking excessively, using drugs, smoking, working immensely much) and still not feeling happy. Consequently, their children are not happy either. Happiness should be found in the harmony of the family in each and every case. The parent is the role model and the example followed by his children blindly. Thus, the role and the effect of the familial milieu on raising happy children is enormous. Before labelling our child as ’bad’ we should check if there is harmony in our soul, or are we just floating in a fake pretence of ’happiness’. A happy child likes to be himself, laughs a lot, is playful and is continuously discovering the world. A happy child is attentive, has lots of questions, plays and runs a lot, he has a lively look in his eyes. A happy child enjoys his life on Earth, he feels secure with his happy parents.

It is our responsibility as parents to develop, to train ourselves (link to trainings) and to become happier and happier. The way we live is the example we give to our children.

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
L.R. Knost

The seeds of educating happiness in the ancient times

According to Plato the goal is not the happiness of the individual but the happiness of the whole State. Aristotle also states in the Nicomachean Ethics that the purpose of human life is happiness. One can achieve happiness leading an ethical and moral life which serves the State. Romans followed the idea of good man, i.e. ‘vir bonus’. Courage as a virtue leads to happiness, and the main role in educating children for happiness falls on a loving mother. Quintilian, the outstanding representative of Roman pedagogy, names morality as the condition of happiness.

’I am fond of the disciple that is lifted by praise, made happy by glory and can cry when defeated.’
(Pukanszky, page 63)

Education for Happiness dies in the Middle Ages

According to the human ideal of the Middle Ages the source of morality is not knowledge, but faith and love which nurtured happiness in children under motherly protection. Christianity saw the basics of happiness in love, self-sacrifice, humbleness, spirit and strive for peace. The fault in this seemingly beautiful human ideal was that love did not exclude bodily harm and children were regarded as little adults and punished accordingly.


Happiness and education for happiness revived in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was the revolution of the Self. Luckily kindness returned into upbringing and the Renaissance created the innocence of childhood. Humanists respected children. Teaching morals was the basics of happiness. Luther emphasised the importance of education in the family even more.

Happiness in Modern Age education shaped by Comenius, Rousseau, Locke, and Pestalozzi

Comenius believed in the omnipotence of education, he thought education is the cure for all problems with society. Locke, as a true happiness-seeker was posing questions like: ‘What values are essential for reaching human happiness? Health, good mood, knowledge, good deeds as well as the hope of incomprehensible eternal happiness of afterlife.’(Pukanszky, page 188).

In the 18th century, which was the century of pedagogy, Rousseau underlined the fact that the child is born good and he reinforced that in his book entitled ‘Emile, or On Education’, in which he presented his Ethics of Happiness the primary aim of which is to educate children to be happy.

Pestalozzi the creator of the hand-head-heart school sees children’s happiness in the overflowing motherly love.

It can be stated that the basics of happiness was education of morality also in the Modern Age.

Taking a leap in time we can see how Maria Theresia and the Ratio Educationis I (The Educational Plan applied to Hungary and all member states of the Empire) defined education in the period of Enlightened Absolutism. Basically it was the Emperor who, through a well-organised public education, took care of the well-being of the state, the happiness of the public and of the individual happiness of the people.

Education for happiness in the 19th and 20th centuries

Kant rejects eudemonistic and utilitarian (happiness centred) models of pedagogy. He thinks children have to be educated to reach the state of clear morality and developed moral autonomy. Kant believes that Man is led by his inner moral rules (maxims).


Fichte was strongly against the education for happiness of Enlightenment. The basics of education, in his view, are the ethical rules of the metaphysical world. ‘Always act following your best judgement.’ i.e. ‘Act following your conscience’. (Pukanszky, 1995, page 279). Fichte thinks that freedom, happiness, morality and culture can only be reached through individual efforts.

Hegel, Schleimacher and Herbart also sees morality, ethics and family as the basics of happiness.

The great achievement of the 19th century is reform pedagogy. Its representatives (Maria Montessori, Adolphe Ferriére, Rudolf Steiner, Helen Parhust,Carleton, W. Wasburne, Peter Petersen, Celestin Freinet) support the Happy Child Ideal.

‘The child is the perfect creature because it is only him who can create his own personality. A child’s soul is similar to soft wax or blank paper onto which the child himself has to carve his images.’
Maria Montessori


Reform pedagogy supports the intellectual, emotional and physical development of children taking into account the individual characteristics of the child. It differed from the previous educational theories because its unique pedagogic methodology promoted freedom, learning, social behavioural forms and ways of treatment of other people. In the 20th century more and more pedagogic initiatives based on alternative methods appeared besides the moral education of the church, which support the happiness of children.

The 21st century as the century of searching for happiness, the flow of happiness education

The 21st century pedagogy is a mixture of liberal, dictatorial and democratic educational views. Parents can make their own choices about the type of education they wish for their children. There are no real boundaries. We live in a multicultural world, even here, in Hungary. Our children are flooded by information and it is extremely difficult to find their way without help, guidelines, advice and real patterns which are worth to follow. Similarly, finding happiness is also difficult for a young person.


The source of happiness in this century is the family, in which the moral education also appears together with developing the individual concept of happiness. The world today is in a rush, so are the parents and this brings about the problem of not spending quality time with children. There is no time for developing children’s happiness, for playing together. The best advice for parents is to slow down and be attentive to children, play with them, get in flow. Believe it or not, playing is the best way to find and cultivate happiness, not only for children but also for parents.

Let’s play then, go to the zoo, to the playground and walk in nature! Take part in the Happiness Lessons Programme >>

‘We all want our children to be happy, but they do not have to be happy all the time. Sadness has its part in life, but peace and truth can be found in sadness, too. The best times are not always the happiest times, but the ones we spend in flow: the time we spend on getting things in order, the time we spend on living our lives.’
Penn Jillette

Join our IWEN Happiness Lessons Program Today >>


Author: Csilla, Hegedűs-Gál