Knowledges of Well-Being in Education

After the turn of the millennium, happiness and subjective well-being have become pervasive concepts in many Western countries. For instance, many social policy areas make use of subjective well-being and happiness indicators alongside objective indicators of well-being (such as wealth, employment and health).

Expert discourses of happiness and subjective well-being limit the ways of naming and managing societal phenomena. Positive psychology, a recent branch in the psy-sciences, has seized the opportunity to make happiness an object of rigorous scientific research in its own right. It seeks to provide objective, neutral representations of universal human nature, despite cultural and historical contexts. Positive psychology also entails branches of positive education and positive youth development that study the phenomena of happiness and well-being in educational contexts.

Positive psychology approaches are often linked to a discourses and techniques of mindfulness. In the past decade, mindfulness meditation has gained popularity in self-help and management discourses and practices. Combining Zen Buddhism with cognitive psychology, a Westernized and psychologized form of mindfulness highlights the ability to pay non-judgmental attention to the present moment. Mindfulness is now prominent in recent business magazine articles celebrating its effects on concentration, creativity and efficiency at work. Moreover, large companies such as Google and Apple now utilize mindfulness to enhance physical and mental well-being and productivity among their employees. Kindergartens, schools and colleges all over the world are also experimenting with mindfulness in order to tackle teacher stress, and to support concentration and mental resilience among children and youth.

What positive psychology and mindfulness discourses have in common is the way they locate significant social and educational phenomena in the mind of the individual. This is why they have been liked typical of a risk society or neoliberal governance: they entice a person to acquire a responsible, entrepreneurial attunement to one’s own life.

With a group of colleagues, Antti Saari studies how the practicality of positive psychology and mindfulness is established through a certain regime of truth that imposes conditions on how subjective well-being can be discerned and acted upon in different educational settings. Using elements from governmentality studies and actor-network theory (ANT), we analyze how positive psychology and mindfulness discourses translate rationalities of rule into academic discourses, and how they are in turn are translated into interventions in schools.

Moreover, Saari looks for alternative theoretical approaches to naming and cultivating well-being and contemplative practices in education by drawing on marginalized discourses from philosophy to critical psychology.


Saari, A. 2019. Sinä voit! Positiivinen psykologia ja onnellisuuden hallinta. In K. Filander, M. Korhonen & P. Siivonen (eds.) Huiputuksen moraalijärjestys: Osallisuuden ja sosiaalisen kivun kertomuksia. Tampere: Vastapaino, 99–125.

Saari, A. (2019) Transference and the Gateless Barrier: A Relational Approach to Contemplative Education. Journal of Transformative Education. Online first version.

Baker, B. & Saari, A. 2018. “The anatomy of our discontent”: From braining the mind to mindfulness for teachers. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 39(2), 169–183.

Saari, A. 2018. Emotionalities of rule in pedagogical mindfulness literature. Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion 15 (2), 141–154.

Saari, A. 2017. Sormi osoittaa kuuta: Meditatiivinen kokemus länsimaisen buddhalaisuuden hegemoniastrategioissa. Niin & Näin 24 (1), 65–72.

Saari, A. & Harni, E. 2016. Positive psychology as Translation and Conquest of Schooling. In Petersen, E. & Millei, Z. (Eds.) Interrupting the psy-disciplines in education. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 93–110.

Saari, A. & Harni, E. 2016. Zen and the art of everything: Governing spirituality in entrepreneurship education. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization 16 (4), 99–119.

Saari, A. 2016. Läsnäolon ristiriidat: Tietoisuustaidot opetustyössä. In J. Parviainen, T. Kinnunen & I. Kortelainen (eds.) Ruumiillisuus ja työelämä. Työruumis jälkiteollisessa taloudessa. Tampere: Vastapaino, 199–214.

Harni, E. & Saari, A. 2015. Onnellisuuden Hermes: Positiivisen psykologian hegemoniapyrkimykset. Agon 47, 4-11.

Väänänen, M., Saari, A. & Kortelainen I. 2014. Johdanto. In Kortelainen, I., Saari, A. & Väänänen, M. (eds.) Mindfulness ja tieteet. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 9–21.

Pulkki, J. & Saari, A. 2014. Voiko hiljaisuudesta oppia? Kriittisiä näkökulmia kontemplatiiviseen pedagogiikkaan. In Kortelainen, I., Saari, A. & Väänänen, M. (eds.) Mindfulness ja tieteet. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 141–57.