Land of tulips, raw herring ice-cream and supreme engineering, The Netherlands is widely famed for Amsterdam’s Red Light District and tolerant drug policy. Contrary to popular belief though, the tiny European country isn’t a nation of hedonists lost in clouds of weed smoke — it is an economic powerhouse with a progressive view on national well-being. In fact, Dutch children are constantly ranking as the happiest in the world  — and adult life satisfaction is not far behind.

With a strong culture for volunteering, high standards of living and a rather unique business culture, the Dutch encourage the development of “soft skills” and cultivate an environment of emotional well-being throughout a person’s life. Art, music, sports, traveling and various other extra-curricular activities are widely encouraged in the school system and beyond.


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So how does a country go from the ravages of WWII starvation to offering one of the highest standards of living in the world? Through education, of course. Schools focus on skill and personal development rather than the automatic assimilation of information, going as far as teaching happiness. That’s right, The Netherlands even launched a school curriculum focused on emotional well-being.

Rolled out in 300 schools, the Gelukskoffer (“Chest of Happiness”) program has impacted more than 20,000 children and hopes to reach all schools by 2020. The initiative’s main goal is to offer children the skills for personal well-being and empowerment, and teach a balance between scientific and emotional intelligence. Children learn how to independently make decisions, be responsible, hold themselves accountable for their own actions, cultivate self-confidence and discover the pleasure and advantages of good teamwork.

“Personal development as the central starting point for education” is one of the main pillar of the education directive. Based on the psychology of positivity, students take part in seven school lessons in personal development. The program is in line with new governmental directives that emphasize the importance of soft skills for both the future economic market and the quality of life of citizens.