Education Makes Unhappy


Why would you want to learn when the outcome of it is that you still have to learn more? Gargantua, the famous character created by Rabelais (1), knew this all along and decided to pursue his happiness instead. Education makes unhappy. Gargantua’s life maxim is: “to achieve something is not aspire it but to let it come as it comes”. (Good) Education makes you hunger for more; Gargantua, however, wanted to be satisfied. If we were to follow Gargantua’s advice a minimal effort mentality would inundate our schools. Or worse, education must be “satisfactory” – be gone any intention to excel! Now, anyone knows that, at least in rhetoric, Gargantua’s advice to go for satisfying is not followed to the letter but as an observation of what really happens when enjoying the fruits of education it is a pretty realistic one (2).
A study in the economics of education looked into the relation between aspirations and experience of happiness. The outcome of the study in Japan led to an interesting observation: “High aspirations dampen satisfaction”. That is, by following education reported happiness will become higher (the satisfaction of knowing more than before) but also the desired happiness will have risen; that is, you learned you want/need more of it. The authors conclude that a significant part of happiness is cancelled out by higher aspirations. The authors (coming from economics) add wittily that this relation holds as well for income. And for that matter one could add this holds for care giving too. Apparently, and in contrast to Gargantua’s stance, we will never be satisfied once we start giving care, earning money or, indeed, do our best in learning. Enough is never enough.

Is this a saddening result? Looking at it from the bright side one could retort by saying: there is always a new horizon. Or should we regress to a life of blessed ignorance? Gargantua’s life in a way provides an answer: once he discovered a clear goal in his life (in his case rescuing his father) matters fell into place. Goals can materialize aspirations, and thus make them manageable and tangible. Happiness becoming real, although there remains always something to wish for, hopefully.

Andrew E. Clark, Akiko Kamesaka & Teruyuki Tamura (2015) Rising aspirations dampen satisfaction, Education Economics, 23:5, 515-531, To link to this article:




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