Monday, March 20, 2017

Is Everybody Happy?
Are you happy?

In the first year seminar I teach, we spend a lot of time talking about happiness. We read Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, analyzing the strategies she employs to inject a bit more happiness into what she readily admits at the outset is a pretty happy life. 

Rubin has done her homework and, as a result, her strategies are wrapped in a research-based package. Using Rubin's book as a jumping off point, we investigate happiness from a social science perspective, looking at happiness through the lens of positive psychology. As we discuss the author's month-by-month goals, we develop our own, and the students conclude the unit--and the semester-- with happiness projects of their own. 

These are, as you can imagine, a joy to read. They arrive in PowerPoints and Prezis, posters and scrapbooks. Last semester, I even got a jar filled with daily observations. 

From The How of Happiness
by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Happiness is a funny thing. Very much within our control, it nevertheless eludes many of us. Some folks are mired in circumstances that seem to push happiness out of reach. Others consider such pursuits frivolous. And, in many cases, as we bend our heads and put our noses to the grindstone, we fail to see the happiness that would encompass us if we'd only lift our heads. 

Despite the fact that happiness has health and longevity benefits, many are afraid to pursue it, believing, perhaps, that it's a childish thing that belongs back in the recess yard with jump ropes, swing sets and tetherball poles.

And that, to me, is sad.

A wonderful thing happens when my students and I dissect happiness. We--all of us, including the instructor--find myriad things to be happy about. Admittedly, these are young people, not many years removed from that recess yard, but they, too are mired. They have jobs and loans and full course loads, some of which require them to put in longer hours than they ever will once they're gainfully employed at just one job. They work, they worry, they study, they stress. 

Finding happiness in the midst of this can be challenging, but discovering what makes them happy as individuals, whether it's gratitudes or platitudes or figuring out how to balance their crazy schedules-- becomes a tool that counterbalances the worry and the stress. More important, it becomes a life lesson. Happiness matters, and taking charge of their own happiness is just as important as managing time and money and creating a balance between work and play. And when all of these things are wrapped up together and tied with a bow, some might call that success.

Are you happy? And, if you aren't, what would change that?

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