In 2006, Wellington College introduced Wellbeing as a compulsory subject sitting alongside English, the sciences and maths as part of the core curriculum. In doing so, Wellington became pioneers of positive education, an approach that values the happiness of young people to the same extent as their academic success.
The wellbeing curriculum teaches pupils how to flourish. Flourishing involves living life with purpose and aspiration, finding those things in life which imbue it with meaning, forging strong reciprocal relationships with others, engaging in life’s tasks to the best of one’s ability and having the strength of character to be resilient in the face of adversity. Lessons draw on philosophy; informed by Aristotle’s concept of ‘Eudaimonia’ – a Greek word which describes a life lived with excellence or to the best of one’s ability, towards the fulfillment of one’s true nature. Pupils pursue a kind of optimal living by learning the skills needed to get the best out of their relationships, health, work and play.
Wellbeing lessons are also underpinned by the innovative discipline of positive psychology. Positive psychology asks questions such as: what makes people feel satisfied with life; what elements make up a life well-lived; and what makes people thrive in the face of adversity? During wellbeing lessons, pupils explore the answers to these questions using the skills they acquire in our critical thinking programme. Indeed, there are strong links between the two; supporting pupils to gain a deeper understanding of their values, resist the dissatisfaction that goes hand in hand with consumer culture, confidently determine what they would like out of life and become a person that they are truly proud to be.
Our wellbeing programme is made up of six strands and every lesson, session, workshop and discussion will contribute in some way towards developing one or more of the following six aspects:
- Physical health: understanding the principal requirements of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.
- Positive relationships: exploring how best to define and develop positive relationships with fellow pupils, teachers, family members and others.
- Perspective: building emotional resilience or a ‘psychological immune system’. This aims to help develop the thinking skills that enable pupils to overcome adversity.
- Engagement: recognising the importance of maintaining a healthy curiosity about the world around us and a willingness to engage with it.
- The world: understanding and promoting ways of living sustainably in a conspicuous consumer society. This strand also encourages pupils to consider their place in the world and help define a positive future role for themselves.
- Meaning and purpose: working out, as Viktor Frankl would say, our response to the questions life asks of us.
Wellbeing is an essential element of our continually evolving educational approach, as we aim to develop our pupils holistically, giving them the emotional resilience as well as the academic skills necessary to thrive in a rapidly-changing world.
The terms ‘wellbeing’ and ‘happiness’ are used interchangeably, however the latter is too caught up in the notion of ‘cheerfulness’ to fully represent the scope of this new subject. Much more than just putting on a smiley face, wellbeing is defined as; ‘a dynamic state, in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community.’
– The Foresight Report, UK Government Office for Science