Bringing Sustainable Happiness to Life
Education for Sustainable Happiness

By Catherine O'Brien • June 20, 2016

Educ for SH and WB cover copySustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual, community, or global well-being without exploiting other people, the environment, or future generations. (O’Brien, 2010)

[book excerpt]  Scanning through Twitter this morning, a headline caught my attention: “Jane Goodall: 5 reasons to have hope for the planet.”[1] I was curious to learn what gives her hope. This famous conservationist has no doubt overcome numerous barriers throughout an extensive and distinguished career. She has surely encountered significant ecological tragedies that could lead to despair. Nevertheless, in a nutshell, Goodall takes hope from the energy and commitment of young people once they are inspired to take action (the Roots and Shoots program she helped to found is clear evidence of youth activism); from the human brain’s capacity to consider the consequences of our actions and to craft innovative solutions to the problems that humanity has created; she is encouraged by the power of social media, by the resilience of Nature[3] itself, and by the indomitable human spirit (she cites Don Merton as an example. He was determined to bring the Black Robin back from near extinction in New Zealand, when there were just seven birds left, including one fertile female. Today, there are 500 black robins).

Goodall’s optimism shares many similarities to the views of Canadian activist, Craig Keilburger, who co-founded Free the Children at the age of twelve to take action on the abuse of child labor. His youthful desire to make a difference led to an organization that has now worked in over forty-five countries with more than 2.3 million youth participating in Free the Children’s education and development programs. As an adult, determined to ensure the financial sustainability of Free the Children, Craig collaborated with his brother, Marc, to establish the successful social enterprise, Me to We, in 2008. In a very short time, Me to We has amassed extraordinary youth interest with a Facebook following of nearly four million people. “We Day” events in cities throughout North America and the United Kingdom launch year-long initiatives of youth-led action. Despite their many successes, the Keilburger brothers have grappled with significant challenges in their efforts to work with communities in the Global South, charting pathways for more sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods. They have garnered considerable insight. Craig believes that what we desperately need in order to address pressing global issues is innovation. His inspiring recommendation is to stretch ourselves to find creative solutions even for challenges that are “seemingly impossible.” He says, “that’s how hope stays” (Crossan & Reno, 2014).

Jane Goodall and Craig Keilburger have undoubtedly learned that humanity’s well-being is intertwined with the well-being of the natural environment. In Goodall’s interview, she recounts the need for conservation groups to collaborate more with one another, rather than competing for scarce financial resources. She also underscores the significance of working with local communities in efforts to conserve a natural environment – and that we do not exist in isolation – sustainable solutions involve working together. Likewise, the We Days which broke out of the conventional non-profit mode of fundraising for individual organizations are events that inspire the joint efforts of multiple organizations to raise funds and awareness for diverse issues.

Reflecting on the experience of these change leaders, there are striking implications for the transformation of education. In fact, the total “makeover” (Fullan, 2013) that is required to bring the behemoth of formal education into the 21st century truly does appear at times to be a seemingly impossible venture – and yet, there are so many leaders, of all ages, who are undaunted, invigorated, and finding novel ways to disrupt education. We will meet some of those leaders throughout the book. We will also look at opportunities for accelerating the transformation of education through engaging students as change-makers and choice-makers; and your essential role as an educator. I am especially excited to share with you the path breaking work on leadership character (Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, 2015) that holds tremendous promise for individual and collective flourishing.

Changing the narrative of education ultimately requires us to consider the very purpose of education, to test our own assumptions and to be open to a paradigm shift. I am also convinced that our efforts will be immeasurably more far-reaching and innovative if we deepen our appreciation for the relationship between education and sustainability. This means coming to terms with the positive and adverse role that education is currently playing in terms of social, cultural, environmental and economic sustainability. How are we accelerating over consumption, for example? Are we modeling green design in our schools? Does the curriculum portray the complex ecological and social systems that sustain us? Do our schools celebrate life and foster resilience? Taking stock of where we are is just the beginning. Understanding the limitless opportunities that are possible when we bring life into learning can energize, stimulate, and inspire all of us to be part of a more hopeful and dynamic story.

Stay tuned for more excerpts from Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being



[2] This book follows the recommendation of the Earthvalues Institute to capitalize the word ‘Nature.’ (

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udemy Yellow Swallow Tail ButterflyIf you are interested in exploring sustainable happiness, consider signing up for the online sustainable happiness course! It’s a great way to enhance your own happiness and wellbeing! There are 35 short videos (mini lectures) and 15 activities to deepen learning. These are also great resources for teaching about sustainable happiness. Use the coupon code SH4Teachers to get 50% off!

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