When we talk about education, one fundamental thing from which we should start are the aspects in which education takes place. What does a person need in his life? What makes him educated, and especially completed as a human being? Is it to find a job and be able to perform that job with dedication? To know how to manage situations? To successfully face market competition? To find an “important” and “influential” position in society? To have a successful career? To earn a lot of money? — What is it that we need in life?

I say to be happy. How and when can we be happy? In other words, what kind of education can make us happy?

Formal education today addresses the intellectual dimension of consciousness. To seek happiness through intellect is like following your own shadow. This is because the intellect has the mind as the center of its action, which mainly focuses on analysis, concepts, critical thinking, comparisons, and logical solutions to problems — which in the language of the world in which we live in today is translated as reason, competition, hierarchy, management, solutions to problems based on previous knowledge…and the list goes on.

a 3-D plot of coordinates on each plane, depicting how happiness would be graphed following Xhaferi’s model
From Rrezarta Xhaferi

Let’s imagine happiness as a point in a three-dimensional space. Let this point be point H (Happy) with the coordinates x, y and z. The X axis is the intellectual dimension, while Y is the emotional and Z, the spiritual. So, H (x, y, z) is a point as shown in the image. The H point in space varies depending on the level of awareness of a person. Let us assume that H1 has coordinates: X1, Y1, Z1 for person 1; H2 with coordinates X2, Y2, Z2 for person 2; and Hn has coordinates Xn, Yn, Zn for the person Pn.

The question is: How can persons P1, P2 … Pn find the points of happiness H1, H2 … Hn in this space, only by knowing the x-coordinate (the intellectual dimension)? Mathematically speaking, if the coordinates y = 0 and z = 0, then we will deal with a one-dimensional function f(x). And yet, we are aware that one does not work only on the intellectual dimension; everyday life proves this to us all the time. Currently, the emotional dimension — to say nothing about the spiritual — is not even on the radar of formal education. So, in order to find the coordinate points in our system, we also need to find the coordinates: y (emotional) and z (spiritual).

The physical dimension is a basic element in a human life. The reason why I did not include it in this explanation is very simple: I wanted to keep things easier to explain in a 3-D system. Otherwise, without the physical we can’t talk about other dimensions at all. Do you agree with me that the educational system does not address even the physical in a proper way? Depending on the school and the country you live in, as with other dimensions, education on the physical level varies, but it likely falls short in many ways. When our children are programmed from the beginning of their schooling to sit in their chairs for hours and listen to the teacher, we learn a lot about this. How about the food they eat (especially at school) and the information about their body and health? Not to mention learning how to prepare healthy food for themselves.

Let’s continue with the emotional and spiritual awareness. How can someone learn about emotional and spiritual aspects of themselves? When they learn to look into themselves, to become introspective. When education teaches how to change your beliefs, to focus on your abilities, on those things that make you unique. Imagine what the world would have looked like if we were focused on our talents, and bringing them into this world!

Education in the intellectual dimension is quite okay. But it has to be built on the basis of knowing yourself first. Imagine a manager who does not know how to manage his beliefs — a manager who is not able to change himself first. How can he manage others then? Or a financier who was raised with limiting beliefs about money. Take any profession or a subject you want, you name it! None of it makes any sense without knowing yourself, at least to the level of one’s own beliefs.

How about relationships with other people? Is this what we need to learn in school? Is this something we face and need in our daily life, more than knowing about algebra? I personally love math and always have been good at it, but in my life I have suffered more from the lack of knowing about human relationships than I benefited from knowing how to find a solution to a multiple integral. And the latter I have learned with passion while I was a student.

During my formal education, there are two cases which could tell a story of dichotomy when it comes to emotional well-being of the professor first, then the students.

The first story is of my math professor, who once put a difficult math problem on the blackboard, and began to ask each student to solve it. As one after another were failing, his temper was shaking towards nervousness. When my turn came, I calmly went to the board and step-by-step solved it.

Now came the interesting part: his agenda was not to find a student who could do that, but he wanted to convince us how much we did not know. So, he denied it! He said with arrogance: “No! It’s wrong!”. And he seemed absolutely convinced on that.

Me, being in my fragile teenage years, did not argue, but silently went to my place, although knew that the math problem was solved correctly, and a friend also confirmed the same solution at the desk. That experience hurt me at the time.

This story illustrates two things: first, that the professor lacked humanity, which directly mirrored his emotional imbalance; and second, that I as a student because of the lack of education in the emotional aspect, was completely unable to go against authority even when the professor was wrong.

The second case was a university professor who had the sense and wisdom to value each student at their best and from a non-judgmental perspective he was able to turn every situation into a fun experience, so that all would feel great while learning and gaining wisdom. Those gems are rare in the formal educational system because it takes more than intellect to shine inside.

When focusing solely on the intellect, the cases of the first story easily multiply and hinder the sacred process of education. While, unfortunately the cases of the second example still remain minority on the academic staff of a formal education.

A curriculum that integrates emotional well-being would begin with practices to expand emotional awareness. Students would practice first to recognize and replicate all the spectrum of emotional responses. In this way, the deeper aspects would emerge, by beginning the process of asking intelligent emotional questions to map-out the structure of emotional layout of each student, so they would begin to know their emotional content in detail.

At this point, the key part of curriculum would step in, where the students would begin to actually change what they don’t like about themselves and balance it with the resources they already have or dream to achieve. This in itself would open not only their minds, but also their hearts to myriad possibilities with the presupposition that anything is possible.

This kind of daily integration in the current deficient curriculum would be like oiling the learning machine. The spiritual disciplines would take care to prevent its rust.

What is needed to balance formal education? How could we help to complete it with these other aspects? Let’s say that we planted a plant in our garden. If we do not know the type of the plant, the ways and conditions in which this plant will grow in its best manner, and what does it serves the best (the purpose), we are not doing our job properly. To water all the plants in the garden in the same way is similar to the way we are currently educating our children in our formal education. We first need to know the type of plant that we sow, in order to properly cultivate it. Same for education. We should start with the spiritual dimension. Finding what is someone’s natural gift, and leading towards that gift, thereby helping to find the meaning and purpose in life. Despite all the positive research studies and results that have been conducted over the years on the benefits of meditation, we still don’t teach mediation in schools. So, why not start with teaching mediation first?

Along with this comes the emotional dimension. How are emotion and memory linked together? Especially, how can children remember things? Through emotions. Therefore, the emotional dimension is the one which should be addressed properly before the intellectual. How? We can find this answer by watching children’s behaviors. They do whatever they want to do, which makes them feel happy at the moment. I will repeat it again: what makes them happy.

When we are talking about happiness, does it sound to you as elusive, unimaginable? If so, it shows that you are so deeply rooted in the logical dimension that you cannot have access to others. But, if you try to see the “big picture”, you will understand that the mission of education is to find this point (happiness), which comes as a balancing result of the coordinates: Intellect, Emotion and Soul.

Wisdom comes from the understanding that emanates from the soul, whereas knowledge comes from the learning exercised through the intellect.

According to Aristotle, happiness is the ultimate purpose of human existence. What should education do in relation to that? Support this goal, right? Therefore, I argue that the purpose of education is to help people learn how to be happy. As I said at the beginning: When can a person be happy? When he is physically healthy and realized in spiritual, emotional and intellectual aspects. When he can fulfill his potential by giving his talent and uniqueness to the world. If we want a high quality education, we need to continually educate our educators” says Tom Whitby. I would add more to that: We need to continually educate ourselves. All of us. No matter if we are educators, parents, or students. This education should start with the emotional and spiritual aspects of ourselves, to the degree that it will naturally merge and balance with the intellectual.

How could an education system work based on this model? First of all, the learning process would gravitate towards people’s unique skills & talents. Learning should be based on personalized education. When such a thing happens, motivation would come naturally as a process, because when you are learning something you love, you yourself would find a way to learn easily. Imagine such an education for yourself! Would that have been much different from the one you had? How your life would have been? Would you have been happier? At least, would you have been more happy than you are now?

What we see today in the world is greed, competition, hierarchy, jealousy. How can such a world we live in appreciate such a kind of education?

The world in which we live may not be ready for generations derived from such an education. But these generations are the ones who will be able to build a new world, better than the one we are currently in — a world where happiness is not just a theoretical concept, but rather a reality and the way of living.