Happiness, Wellbeing and Habitus

Some time ago in this blog I wrote about wellbeing and demography. This week I had an opportunity to revisit some of the ideas from that post in the context of some 2010 reports and discussions. The three stimuli were:
1.Derek Bok‘s discussion of The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being with Phillip Adams on Radio National’s Late Night Live. The book describes the principal findings of happiness researchers and considers “how reliable the results appear to be and whether they deserve to be taken into account in devising government policies”. Derek Bok looks at the policy implications of happiness research for “economic growth, equality, retirement, unemployment, health care, mental illness, family programs, education, and government quality, among other subjects”.

2. The publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ report Are Young People Learning or Earning? The report notes that in 2009:

  • The majority (81%) of young people aged 15-24 years (from a total of around three million) were fully engaged in either education or work.
  • Almost a half (49%) were studying full-time for a qualification, while almost a third (31%) were in full-time employment.
  • A small proportion (around 2%) were engaged in both study and work on a part-time basis.
  • Some 561,000 (19%) were not fully engaged. These were made up of 8% of young people who worked part-time (without being enrolled in study), 5% who were unemployed, and another 6% who were not in the labour force. A very small proportion of young people (25,700 or around 1%) were enrolled in part-time study only.

3.Radio National’s PM program explored the report and in its discussion observed that “More than half the people who left school in 2008 without matriculating couldn’t find full-time work or a place in further study. And the downturn left nearly one in five young people in limbo, neither working full time nor studying.” The next day the PM program followed up with a story about the work of the Exodus Foundation. The Foundation has been in operation for eight years and works on “the problem of students falling out of the education system, then struggling to either find work or get into tertiary study.” It takes on twenty students each year who face “barriers to education, including abusive families, homelessness or having already been in gaol.” Exodus Youth:

Is a second chance education and training program directed at early school leavers aged 15-19 who experience homelessness, abuse and/or other social dislocations. Exodus Youth provides young people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable them to succeed in everyday life and gain employment .
Exodus Youth program is based on three steps:
Step 1 – Completion of the Year 10 certificate
This is achieved through correspondence with Sydney Distance Education High School. The certificate takes approximately one year to complete.
Step 2 – Living Skills Program
The living skills program assists young people in making the transition to a successful, independent life. This program runs parallel to the Year 10 certificate program, and is based around six modules designed to teach everyday skills ranging from budgeting and cooking, to law and basic rights.
Step 3 – Next Step Program
After completion of Steps 1 & 2 students will be ready for employment, further education and/or training. We assist in the first few months of their new life, providing support, mentoring and counselling as required.
The Exodus Youth program is different from regular schooling because it allows students to learn at their own pace in a small group within a safe environment. The program runs Tuesday to Thursday from 9:30am to 2:30pm. As many of the students go without meals at home, breakfast, lunch and snacks are provided.

These three items encouraged me to think again about habitus. I read Bourdieu a long time ago but a Wikipedia summary took me back to 1970s and early 1980s studies in sociology. The summary noted that:

The habitus provides the practical skills and dispositions necessary to navigate within different fields (such as sports, professional life, art) and guides the choices of the individual without ever being strictly reducible to prescribed, formal rules. At the same time, the habitus is constantly remade by these navigations and choices (including the success or failure of previous actions).

These navigations and choices are key components for me in the discussion of¬† happiness and wellbeing. This week’s reading and listening have reaffirmed that for me.

Photo Credits
Meeting in Utrecht (1980)
Sydney (1935)
Hope Arriving h.koppdelaney


  1. Thanks for this data and reflection, Keith! As an aside, now that the leaving age has been raised to 17 in NSW we have not had one Year 11 student ‘drop out’ so far this term – or leave for work either. I suspect some of the data will look different due to this change in the next few years as more students stay at school.

    • Yes. I think the significance of the changes will be revealed in future data. Thanks for visiting the post. Hope all is well with you.


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