Ch. 3: Happiness and Success at Google

Does the happiness principle work outside of school? Does it work in the adult world of job and career — in the daily grind?

When Sergey Brin and Larry Page started Google in 1998, they set a policy of hiring only the most brilliant applicants in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Fifteen years later, Google decided it might be a good idea to evaluate the results of this policy.

A Washington Post article, “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students” (December 27, 2017), summarized what Google learned from Project Oxygen, the in-depth examination of its hiring practices.

Project Oxygen completely overturned the company’s understanding of the qualities that best predicted success in a high-tech business environment. Most notably, among the eight standout qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise was dead last.

The top qualities that augured success at Google were “soft” skills. The researchers found that the most successful Google employees:

  1. Are good coaches
  2. Empower the team and do not micromanage
  3. Express interest in and concern for the other team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Are productive and results-oriented
  5. Are good communicators — they listen and share information
  6. Help others with their career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills that help them advise the team

A follow-up study by Google on the defining qualities of its most productive research teams (Project Aristotle, 2016) confirmed these results. In the Post article, Cathy N. Davidson, a professor in the graduate school at CUNY, described the findings:

“Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Davidson cited a survey of 260 companies conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The study, which included industry giants Chevron and IBM, found that recruiters ranked communication skills among the top three qualities companies look for in job applicants. “They prize both an ability to communicate with one’s fellow workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization.”

What conclusions can we draw from these studies, about the best way to help our children succeed and be happy?

A common feature of the qualities that set the top Google employees apart is that they are “expansive.” That is, they foster a work environment where the employees are encouraged to expand their awareness to include others.

The qualities that the researchers identified as furthering success at Google and other top companies are the same qualities that the teachers in the Living Wisdom Schools expend tremendous energy to cultivate in the classroom, considering them essential to create a safe, nurturing, joyful learning environment for the children.

Oddly enough, the Google findings reflect the results of a vastly older body of studies conducted in the forest ashrams of ancient India.


Ch. 2: What Do You Want for Your Child

What are your hopes and dreams for your child? Not just for school, but for the whole of his or her life?

Financial security? A good job? A nice home?

Material goals are self-evidently necessary and worthwhile. But surely there are also many intangibles worth considering, such as happiness and peace of mind.

We all want our children to acquire an awareness of positive, inspiring values and ideals, and a deep understanding of the ultimate meaning of life.

Education Reflects Parents’ Goals

No influence outside the home has a greater impact on young people than the countless hours they spend at school. Yet nowadays, little attention is paid at school to developing higher values. But what if your aspirations for your child go beyond the material?

It’s difficult in our culture to succeed without rigorous intellectual training. But life itself teaches us that success and happiness depend to a great extent on human skills such as knowing how to get along with others, how to persevere, how to focus our attention, how to cooperate, and how to be a good friend.

In the Living Wisdom Schools, we feel that the students should benefit from the storehouse of wisdom that humanity has gathered through the ages regarding the personal skills and understanding that they will need to build a fulfilled and happy life. We feel that it’s our duty to give young people these essential life skills, beginning at a young age.

For more than fifty years, we have found that children who learn how to be happy are far more likely to love learning and be successful in their academic studies.

In the Living Wisdom Schools, the students learn to be balanced, mature, effective, happy, and harmonious. We call our philosophy Education for Life, because it relates the lessons young people learn in school to their lives as a whole. At LWHS, we study not only the great things people have accomplished, but the human qualities that enabled them to achieve greatness.

The Secrets of Success

Before we can be happy and secure, we must know a great deal about the world around us. We need to learn to interact appropriately with the people and circumstances in our lives, because life will seldom mold itself to our expectations.

We must be ready to adjust to realities outside our own. We must learn practical skills, and we must master academic knowledge. Education for Life helps students prepare for maturity on all levels — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

More Than Natural Talent

In the Living Wisdom Schools, the teachers’ constant focus is on guiding the individual student in developing their five universal human “tools of maturity”: body, feelings, will, mind, and soul. With health and high energy, sensitive feelings, dynamic will power, and mental clarity, young people are able to expand their awareness and find a deep sense of purpose and joy.

In our schools, we gauge each student’s success not only by test results, but by the quality of their attitudes, effort, and interactions with others.

The Best Teaching is Highly Individual

Young people display a far broader array of individual traits than adults. Instead of forcing them to conform to the rigid mold of a “standardized” curriculum, we feel it makes more sense to discover their unique strengths and help them build on those positive qualities to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need today, tomorrow, and for all their years.

The students in our schools develop self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning, because encouraging their strengths releases a flow of energy and enthusiasm that carries over into their coursework.

Our class sizes are deliberately kept small so that the teachers can develop a close relationship with each student. The teachers are trained to assess the student’s individual physical, mental, and emotional development, and guide them along the lines of their strengths. They relate to them much as their parents do, helping them meet their unique, ever-changing challenges.

Joy in the Classroom

We feel it is our responsibility to help make each child’s school years a positive, joyful experience, as a foundation for success and happiness in later life. In the Living Wisdom classrooms, the atmosphere is happy, relaxed, and family-like, while at the same time there is order, appropriate discipline, and a clear sense that the teacher is in charge.

The teachers win the students’ respect by skillfully awakening their energy and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand. The students learn that they are expected to behave with consideration and respect for others, and that they can always approach the teacher for individual guidance, without fear.

A positive learning environment doesn’t automatically transform young people into angels. In our classrooms, we find the same issues, interactions, and challenging transitions as in other schools. What’s different is that the students are given the tools and the opportunity to deal with the challenges in effective, enlightened ways.

The Inner Life

In the Living Wisdom Schools, each student’s natural spirituality is acknowledged and encouraged. Spirituality isn’t defined as a system of narrow dogmas; the focus is on the student’s own experience of universal spiritual truths. We make time for meditation, yoga postures, and other uplifting activities. The children can experience for themselves what it feels like to be in harmony with their own higher thoughts, feelings, and consciousness.

The students discover that expansive feelings, thoughts, and actions increase their own sense of happiness and well-being, whereas contractive attitudes and actions take their happiness away. “Right and wrong” become personal experiences of the consequences of specific behaviors, rather than abstract rules. The students become deeply interested in changing their behavior when they realize that there are effective ways to take control of their own happiness and joy.

The Importance of Good Teachers

Living examples inspire us far more effectively than books or rigid rules. A teacher who deeply understands and loves the subject matter is more likely to awaken a love and commitment in the students. The Living Wisdom Schools are built around the teachers’ open-hearted sensitivity to the students in their charge. We consider it essential that the teachers express in their lives and personal demeanor the positive attitudes and spiritual and moral values and maturity we seek to awaken in the students.

Our teachers participate in Education for Life as a lifelong process. Each teacher is deeply involved in personal development, and we offer our teachers ongoing support and training to keep them fresh, enthusiastic, and expansive.

Ch. 1: Introduction

For more than fifty years, the Living Wisdom Schools have pioneered a radical new approach to educating young children — an approach that empowers them to be happy while they excel in school and life.

In education today, there’s a quiet but powerful groundswell — a grassroots rebellion against the government-mandated “No Child Left Behind” and Core Curriculum initiatives that have hamstrung teachers, alienated students, and distorted the purpose of education by preventing children from receiving the best possible experience of school.

The Education for Life philosophy can be simply stated:

At school, the factor that most assuredly
promotes deep, engaged, lasting learning
is happiness.

Parents are often dumbfounded when they hear the Living Wisdom School teachers proclaim that a happy, arts-enriched, highly individualized curriculum promotes more efficient learning than the “academically rigorous” curricula offered by other schools.

They are nonplussed by the suggestion that the LWS curriculum gives children a deeper education because the teachers are encouraged to teach principles and review content with each student until they have a firm grasp on concepts before moving on, instead of skimming the surface of the subject matter in an ill-considered rush to demonstrate good test scores.


Young people who are subjected to a one-sided, academically overloaded curriculum are at risk not only of receiving a superficial education; they end up mentally and emotionally less well-prepared to succeed in high school and beyond. Perhaps most troubling, they are less likely to acquire important personal qualities that are defining among successful people.

One prospective parent, during a visit to LWS, protested, “But these kids can’t be learning — they’re too happy!”

Yet groundbreaking research has confirmed beyond any possibility of doubt that happiness and school success are intimately connected.

What are some of the qualities that we, as parents and teachers, should encourage in our children to prepare them for success in high school, college, and life?

Aside from the knowledge and skills required to succeed in a profession, surely it’s fair to suggest that there also needs to be a deep wanting to do worthwhile and wonderful things.

There has to be a confidence, self-knowledge, positive expectations, and an ability to work well with others — all qualities that must be deliberately nurtured. They cannot be imposed from without, nor will they magically appear as a side-effect of good grades and test scores.

These personal qualities, which are highly predictive of career success, cannot be nurtured by only trying to motivate kids to get good grades. Any motivation that grades and test scores provide will be superficial and will fail to touch their hearts. Worse, it may encourage a dependence on external recognition that can never be fully satisfied. After one test, there will always be another.

As will become clear in the chapters that follow, success and happiness come most reliably to those who are focused enthusiastically on the process — who are not postponing their happiness until some vaguely imagined future, but are able to rejoice in the expansion of their powers today.



Three Important TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson

We encourage parents considering Living Wisdom School to watch the following talks by educator Sir Ken Robinson, in which he eloquently and humorously describes the central problems with education today and proposes solutions that have been implemented with stunning success for more than forty years in the Living Wisdom Schools.

Sir Ken Robinson works with governments, education systems, international agencies, global corporations and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations to unlock the creative energy of people and organizations. He has led national and international projects on creative and cultural education in the UK, Europe, Asia and the United States. Sir Ken Robinson is the most watched speaker in TED’s history. His 2006 talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (watch below) has been viewed online over 40 million times and seen by an estimated 350 million people in 160 countries.

He has been named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’. He was acclaimed by Fast Company magazine as one of “the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation” and was ranked in the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thinkers.  In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.

His book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (Penguin/Viking, 2009) is a New York Times bestseller. It has been translated into 23 languages and has sold over a million copies worldwide. His latest book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (Viking, 2015), tackles the critical issue of how to transform the world’s troubled educational systems, and is now available in 15 languages.

Sir Ken was born in Liverpool, UK. He is married to Therese (Lady) Robinson. They have two children, James and Kate, and now live in Los Angeles, California.

Do Schools Kill Creativity?


Bring On the Learning Revolution


How to Escape Education’s Death Valley