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Happiness 101 Now Taught in Colleges and Graduate Schools Around U.S.

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Before I start, let me say that I don’t have the definitive answer to this discussion (or any). I don’t think there is one when it comes to this topic. Like most, I’m still exploring it, which is why I have chosen to make it just that – a discussion, an interactive chat, and a group exploration.

I’ll open the door on it and you guys can come in and chat. I would like to know your thoughts and feelings on the subject because I’m sure you’re going to have some and it’s relevant to every person on the planet. It’s probably the one topic of universal interest. I know you can teach me and the rest of the group a thing or two if you want to.

Hi Guys. Hope you’re enjoying (or enjoyed) your weekend.

I’ve had fun so far. I’ve worked on a couple of radio stations, spent hours in the studio, and had an interesting on-air chat with the principle of a very wealthy, high-profile school here in Australia that is about to start teaching ‘positive psychology’ as an integral part of it’s curriculum in 2008, described by some as ‘Happiness 101′.

This subject is now taught in numerous colleges and graduate schools around the U.S. (over 200) and has been largely driven (‘championed’ is maybe a better word) by a U.S. psychologist named Dr. Marty Seligman. I’ve read a little of what the good Doc says (it all seems reasonable) and, as I said, spoke to the school principle who is spending sixteen million dollars (that’s some school) on a ‘wellness centre’ for his students (which will incorporate the positive psychology stuff).

The interesting discussion with Mr. School Principle got the cogs in my small but curious brain turning.

In a recent Good Weekend magazine article here in Australia, the ‘science’ of happiness was explored (this was the catalyst for the radio interview). It seems that (according to the article anyway) despite all our stuff (resources, technology, money, education, toys), we’re no happier. In fact, overall, we’re probably less happy.

Apparently, it’s now something we need to teach. We’re losing (or have lost) the skill. Is happiness a skill or a mindset? Is it a way of being, perhaps? Can it be learned?

I was amazed to read that depression is now ten times more prevalent than it was fifty years ago. I don’t know about that stat, but that’s what was reported in this article. Maybe we’re just more aware now; more educated about depression perhaps.

Hmm.

I have some amazing memories of spending time on a little Island in Vanuatu called Espiritu Santo a few years back, where I made some great friends who taught me all about genuine happiness. They weren’t trying to teach me anything, but they did. No electricity, no TV, no radio, little money, no bank accounts; just lots of fun, lots of laughs, lots of love, an old guitar with four strings, and lots of happiness.

I wonder who taught them. Probably did that positive psychology course by correspondence. Watch your step, you may trip on my sarcasm.

I’m not being critical of the program, it’s introduction into schools, or the notion of exploring positive psychology. I guess it’s just a weird (but insightful) commentary on where we are at as a society when we have to take classes (at college level no less) on how to be happy. Maybe we should just send our kids for a semester of ‘Life 101′ on the island of Espiritu Santo with my islander brother, McKenzie (his first name).

In the article, the comparison was made between feeling good (chasing or partaking in something which makes us feel good for a while – food, drugs, sex, a new dress) and doing good (helping others, being generous with our time, money, skills), and which might provide us with a greater level of long-term and overall happiness. In a way, the self-ish verses the self-less debate.

The million-dollar question has to be, “What is happiness?” Is it different things for different people? Can it be defined? Is it a psychological state, an emotional state, a spiritual plane, a combination of the lot perhaps, a myth, or none of the above?

How do we know when we’re there? What are the symptoms, er, signs? What if we have all the happiness ingredients but we’re still not happy? Perhaps there’s something wrong with our wiring, or maybe the ingredients need to be different for every individual.

Maybe there are no set ingredients. Maybe we keep changing the happiness rules, constantly raising the happiness bar, and subconsciously pushing it out of our own reach causing self-inflicted misery. Strangely, some of us seem determined to find our way back to unhappiness.

Some psychologists teach us that if we are needed, wanted, appreciated, stimulated, and loved, we should be pretty happy; but what if we’re not? Is happiness a four-year old squealing with delight as her dad pushes her on a swing, or is that a momentary emotional state, a temporary euphoria? Is it excitement, or joy perhaps?

When she starts crying once the swing stops, does that mean the happiness has stopped, or does it mean she’s a brat, or just a kid who wants to be swinging?

Is true happiness something that is (for the most part) always there — like that deep sense of contentment, inner peace, satisfaction, and calm that we might guess someone like the Dalai Lama takes everywhere with him? Is it that deep sense of knowing we are in the right place, doing the right thing?

Maybe it’s impossible to be happy all the time; or not.

Every religion has an opinion on it, and also a level of “we’re right and they’re wrong” in their theology (psychology/philosophy). Religious arrogance always amuses me. Seems a little contradictory to me, but then again, I’m just a simple gym owner. Not as enlightened as some, I s’pose.

Maybe happiness is the absence of certain things: fear, frustration, hate, illness, pain, and insecurity, for example. Surely different things make different people happy, so maybe happiness is an individual response to a range of varied stimuli. For one person, a crying baby might be a source of great happiness, but for another not so much!

What about things that once made us happy, but not any more because we’ve changed, maybe for the worse. Maybe we make ourselves miserable by focusing on what we don’t have rather than enjoying what we do. Perhaps we don’t really know how to appreciate what, or who, we have in our life.

Some people suggest that living in an environment where we have so many choices (check out the cereal selection at your supermarket) has led some of us to being perpetually dissatisfied, always wanting more, always looking over the fence, always believing that a bigger, better, or newer version (of whatever) will make us happy.

Finding misery in an otherwise pretty cool life seems to be a common skill these days. Perhaps we’re too analytical. Perhaps our tendency to analyse and re-analyse every single facet of our lives inside-out and upside-down has turned us into a bunch of neurotic, self-absorbed, insecure, needy Sigmund Freud-wannabees.

Perhaps all this therapy has made us more dysfunctional. Maybe we think and talk about it too much. Maybe I shouldn’t publish this article. Maybe I’m helping perpetuate the problem – or not.

Maybe we should spend less time trying to make ourselves happy, and more time and energy trying to make others happy; and in doing so we’d make ourselves happy! That’d be cool.

Hey, I’m back at the selfish verses selfless debate, aren’t I? Maybe there’s something in that.

Okay, I know you have an opinion. Get off the fence and let’s hear it.

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About Craig Harper

  • Yehudit

    Consider Spell- and grammarcheck. “It is” = “It’s”. “Its” is possessive. “Principles” are what most people have. The manager of schools are called “principals”, thus the joke about “think of your principal as your pal.”

    YHC

  • klondikekitty

    I agree that happiness tends to be an elusive, sometimes nearly impossible, goal these days, but I am of the opinion that much of the unhappiness in the world is due to greed/instant gratification demands/envy of what others have that one cannot afford. There also is a stress factor involved — difficult to find happiness when you’re so stressed out and tired you barely have the energy to make dinner when you get home at night!!