Can an Education Contribute to Happiness? An Inside Look
The “pursuit of happiness” seems to be one of the central paradoxes that most everyone stumbles upon at least once in their lives—trying to find that secret formula with the belief it holds the keys to the universe and will unveil the answers of how to be genuinely happy.
We recently viewed an excellent segment from CNBC Make It about earning a college education and its contribution to overall life satisfaction. The feature informatively detailed the upsides and downsides of earning a college degree and its relative influence on individuals’ happiness both in the short and long-term.
Throughout this article, we will explore this topic in-depth. Before we dive in, we want to emphasize one key point: happiness comes in many different forms. There is no right or wrong way to be happy. It’s ultimately up to you—and you alone—to pursue whatever brings you joy. Whether that be running the show as a corporate executive or stealing the show as a Broadway performer, happiness is much like life—it’s what you make of it!
So, then the question becomes, can a degree really make you happier? In layman’s terms, it’s transparently a yes and no scenario.
By reading this, you’ll learn:
- Ways an education can contribute to satisfaction
- Potential hurdles and how you can overcome them
- The importance of valuing happiness at any stage
To begin, it’s crucial to understand how education can contribute to overall satisfaction in life. It’s also important to note that an education does not solely have to be a college degree. It can be a vocational school, a certification, or any other medium—but, in the context of this blog, we will focus on a degree.
Ways an Education Can Contribute to Satisfaction
In today’s age, getting an advanced degree seems as standard as getting your driver’s license—with almost everyone either having a degree or at least expecting to earn one. While it may seem trivial to follow the status quo alongside everyone else, there are many reasons why so many pursue higher education.
The majority of people pursue earning a degree for one primary purpose: obtaining and advancing in a career. Most employers today—minus a select few, ahem Tesla—prefer their employees to have some form of higher education. This does not mean you have to possess a degree, but the reality is most employers have a hard time getting past the “no degree” phase. Whether it be fair or not, having the degree allows you that “foot in the door” entry phase to put you into the interview chair and moves you one step closer to nabbing that position.
Besides opening you up to more prominent career possibilities, a degree can help you advance in your specific area of interest and provide you with tools that can be directly applicable to the career track of your choice. For example, say you earn a degree that offers you multifaceted skills. With these foundational business practices in your toolbelt, you will have the ability to tailor your career search to any industry of your choice. How? Because you have learned a vast skill set that covers a wide array of technical fields, enabling you to couple your degree with a career that genuinely piques your interest.
In either light, having a degree can potentially help you tremendously when it comes to competing for that coveted spot at XYZ company—which, in turn, can help your levels of satisfaction, especially in your professional life.
Earning potential is one of the most prevalent pieces of evidence when it comes to validating the importance of having a degree. According to CNBC Make It, those with a bachelor’s degree earn a median weekly wage of $1,416, compared to those with only a high school diploma earning a median weekly wage of $789—a nearly 80% difference. While the adage “money can’t buy happiness” is still very true, it’s more about the fact earning a higher wage allows for more significant opportunities to pursue the things that make you happy. These can be things such as living in a flourishing city, traveling to new destinations, and having the discretionary income to give back to your communities.
While a degree does not, by any means, guarantee job stability, there are surmountable pieces of evidence that suggest a higher education boasts a broader safety net. The COVID-19 pandemic proves this to be accurate, as a large majority of the population who’ve suffered job loss typically falls into areas that don’t require formal education. This does not exonerate the fact individuals with a degree can still lose their job at any time. Instead, the point here is that having a degree prohibits individuals from experiencing job loss more frequently. What are some careers that have promising job security? Check out LinkedIn’s top jobs here.
Arguably one of the most advantageous—and best—parts of earning a degree is the networking component. Academic institutions are the best breeding grounds for peer-to-peer networking and cultivate an environment to make lasting connections. There are countless stories where founders of companies detail how they chose their partners, often referencing that they met in college. Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook with fellow college roommates during his time at Harvard? While this isn’t a blanket statement for every scenario, the vital point to take away from this is attending an academic institution puts you in an atmosphere where you can meet like-minded individuals. This, in turn, can foster relationships that transform into work partnerships and abundant opportunities.
Another significant advantage is the power of an alumni network. The saying “birds of feather flock together” is a proverbial statement for associating with your alumni network. Why? Because for many, being an alumnus is part of an identity—a reputation that can spur opportunities through the power of association.
Let’s elaborate on this further. When you’re part of a network, it can act as a symbolic identifier of your personas—such as your values, career interests, and a sense of purpose. This identity can also be a substantial factor when seeking future opportunities. How? Again, it goes back to the adage about having common ground, which in this case, could be your academic institution. Think about it like this, let’s say you attend a specific institution because of their culture and values. If you were to see a person applying for a career at your workplace that went to the same school as you, do you think you would be more inclined to see what they’re about? I mean, if they chose to go to that school, they must share some of the same values as you, right? While we know this may seem a little bit meager, there is an underlying truth to this. Almost every human likes a semblance of familiarity, even if it’s something as simple as attending the same school. We know being part of a specific institution isn’t 100% indicative of your character, but it can be a part of it.
Exploring Your Identity
Much like the alumni network association, CNBC Make It brings up a valid point when referring to how earning a degree can help you further explore your identity. For many of us, our careers are a significant part of our being. Why do so many of us attend college? So we can earn an education that helps us pursue the types of careers that genuinely interest us. Having a passion for something is what gets a lot of us up in the morning—and for many of us, that passion is tied directly to our careers. Earning a degree can be a prime opportunity to learn what truly ignites your soul, or, if you already know the answer to that, it can help further solidify why you’re making these strides.
The Flipside of the Coin
As promised, we will be playing devil’s advocate and look at earning a degree from the flipside of the coin. While earning an education does have significant benefits, it doesn’t mean they don’t have potential headaches and drawbacks.
The first thing that comes to mind for most today when discussing college is one word—cost. With the cost of four year institutions rising year after year, it is entirely understandable how college may feel out of reach to a large majority. Research has found an enormous stressor for many, especially Millennials, is the seismic student debt burden many are left with after earning their diploma. This makes it harder to get a head start on life and can cause people to question the value of a degree compared to the monetary restrictions it may cause.
While a degree is expensive, an argument can be made to look at it as a long-term investment, somewhat like a stock option. Do you think Amazon or Tesla was always a profitable stock for shareholders? Not at the beginning, but look at them now! With time, commitment, and a lot of elbow grease, a degree can be a valuable asset that continues to rise in value as time goes on. Additionally, there are ways to curb the costs of college. Things like financial aid and scholarships, attending a community college, living with parents through school, or taking some general education classes in high school are alternatives to make your academic journey more affordable.
Consider Your Options, Look at the Big Picture
Nowadays, considering all your options before making a decision is imperative. You wouldn’t buy a house or a vehicle without looking at it first, right? This should be the same when considering your future goals and life ambitions. If college is not the path for you, that is entirely okay! To our point earlier—not all companies require their employees to have an education. Even industry leaders like Elon Musk understand that “exceptional ability” can come from anyone. And hey, his companies seem to be doing more than okay. So, for you, if you’re more interested in a trade school, starting your own business, or becoming a full-fledged volunteer, more power to you! The important thing is to do what makes you happy.
Finding Happiness in Every Moment
"It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness."
This may sound somewhat cliche, but remember satisfaction comes from within—it cannot be bought, it doesn’t come in an expensive package, and it’s not something you all of a sudden “have” once you hit a particular milestone. It’s how you choose to spend your life, how you choose to impact the world and everything in it. Happiness is having gratitude for every little thing, whether that be the roof over your head, the furry friends by your side, or the ability to spend another day on this earth. It’s essential to practice gratitude in every moment.
It’s not saying “I will be happy when,” but instead saying, “I am happy now.” Life will always have its ups and downs, but happiness can still shine through as long as you’re willing to find the light at the end of the tunnel.