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If I Only Had a Brain: Education as the Road to Happiness

I live in the Seattle area, a part of the country with one of the most educated populations per capita of anywhere in the country. According to the United States Census Bureau, almost half of the residents of Seattle over the age of 25 have at least a bachelor’s degree, almost double the national average. As the home of Boeing, Microsoft, Nintendo, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Paccar, and many more, the Puget Sound region places a significant emphasis on education and academic achievement. People around here are well educated.

Media will tell you that education is a way to happiness.

If this is so, Seattle and the Puget Sound region should be a happy place to live, with so many of its inhabitants with academic degrees. Think over all the odd bits of trivia you’ve heard about Seattle over the years.

Seattleites have webbed feet because of the rain. People in Seattle have veins filled with coffee. People in the Northwest walk around in wool socks and Birkenstocks.

Isn’t one of them also about Seattle and a high rate of suicide?

Some of that has to do with the weather, and a lot has to do with urban myth, but I will tell you, from personal and professional experience, there are some very unhappy people here. I have had many successful, well-educated people in my office who are also absolutely miserable. A bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or even a doctorate are not universal guarantees of happiness in life, no matter what the media ads herald, amidst pictures of smiling students and impressive parchments.

The thought is that an education will give you purpose, a direction in life. This direction will lead to happiness. But what if you take all that time and spend all that money, only to learn the direction your education is taking you isn’t a direction you want to go after all?

What if you take all that time and spend all that money and find out, while you think pre-Columbian tribal practices is a fascinating field of study, it’s also an incredibly narrow employment path? 

What if you take all that time and spend all that money only to realize that degree — now that you have it — was really someone else’s dream, not yours?

What if you take all that time and spend all that money and come to realize that the thrill of academic pursuit doesn’t quite prepare you for the mundane realities of the world of work?

If you have pursued education as a road to happiness, where have you hit…and where have you missed?

SOURCE: Chapter 1, “Detours On the Road to Happiness,” in Happy for the Rest of Your Life by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc.

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