How to Write and Think and Meditate Yourself Into Being Happier: The HAPPINESS CLASS!

ERDG 491Z -- University at Albany, SUNY

Professor Claudia Ricci, Ph.D.


Reading and writing transform the way we think, and how we see ourselves in the world. Neurological research now shows that changing the way we think can produce positive physiological changes in the brain. At a time when an epidemic of mental health issues plagues our nation, and threatens to paralyze students in the academy, this class presents a set of cognitive tools and practical skills that will help students refine and enhance their educational goals while examining a broad range of life issues. Beginning with philosophical ideas set forth by Aristotle, the class will rely on texts from psychology, neuroscience, literature and narrative theory, to open up discussions about the patterns of human behavior and thinking that tend to produce lasting fulfillment and deep reward. In keeping with research by psychologist James Pennebaker and others who have demonstrated the value of expressive writing, students will engage in extensive journaling and other self-reflective writing assignments as they seek to define what it means, and what it takes, to find happiness. Part of the work in the classroom will be to help students identify their individual “signature strengths” that can produce what positive psychologist Martin Seligman defines as “authentic happiness and abundant gratification.” In addition to classroom work, a special two-hour laboratory session, with attendant readings and writing exercises, will be required each week; students will work with experts in mindfulness, meditation, yoga, spirituality and stress reduction, and will document how these techniques can help the student better cope with the inherently stressful nature of University life.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Allyson Pashko's amazing letter

November 10, 2010

Dear Prospective Student,

Have you ever had a bad day? Have you ever felt like your life was meaningless and your unhappiness would last a lifetime? What if I told you that you could read and write your way into a happier life? How would you feel about gaining the inside knowledge to obtaining a more peaceful, stress-free, and most importantly happier life? Sound’s amazing doesn’t it?!

I would like to inform you about a new and exciting class that will be taught here at UAlbany during the spring semester of 2011, which will allow you to re-examine your life. You will be able to maneuver through your toughest issues, learn better stress-coping strategies, change the way you think and act in many daily situations, and also become a better writer while doing so. Inspired by a popular class at Harvard University, this course will take an interdisciplinary approach to the subject of happiness, while reviewing many different works of literature. If you happen to be interested in psychology, like I am, you will be reading many texts in that area, as well as neuroscience, biology, philosophy, and other creative works. Through these readings you will become familiar with the upcoming field of positive psychology and all of the research that is being done with mindfulness and studies of happiness.

Considering that I have gone through some of the toughest years of my life here at the University, I am finding this class this fall to be extremely beneficial. Before learning the appropriate cognitive tools and mindfulness meditation practices, I really thought I was doomed to be unhappy for a long time. I felt the issues in my life would haunt me forever and I would never be able to move on to a happier place.

Luckily, as a part of this class, you will be taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction workshop which will provide you with the tools to re-evaluate life struggles and everyday circumstances. I am currently learning how to change the way I think and approach situations, while being more aware and attentive to the present moment. I am also learning to stop worrying about the past and dwelling on it, because there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it. This has been a HUGE help for me. Through this course you will also learn other great practices and be introduced to different types of meditation. I know it may sound like something totally bizarre at first, but I tried it and I have come to appreciate these Eastern practices very much. I will definitely continue to practice these for the rest of my life.

You may take a look at the reading list and papers that are required and feel overwhelmed, but I think you will come to find that everything you read will only work to benefit you better in the long run. How many classes have you taken and remember nothing from? I can probably name about ten or more. The more work and time you put into the course, the happier you can potentially become. I have really come to enjoy many of the readings and I tend to quote things in my journal, which is another requirement of the course. The journal provides a place for free-expression with no judgment and will let you keep track of how you are progressing throughout the course.

My journal, which is something very new to me and probably you as well, has really served as a great place to let my inhibitions go. It allows me to say what I feel I cannot express out loud to others, in fear that they will judge me. You really need to try it out!

I really hope you will give this class a try and hopefully gain the necessary skills to lead a more fulfilling and happier life. Your next semester here could potentially turn out to be your key to unlocking the door to happiness for the rest of your life.

Allyson Pashko

Allyson Pashko is a senior at the University at Albany, State University of New York, majoring in psychology. She is one of three students in an independent study this semester who are doing a "test run" of the new happiness class. Allyson is graduating next month. Congratulations Allyson! Meanwhile, a million thanks to Lenore Flynn, who has been instructing the mindfulness portion of the new "happiness" class. Lenore  has been presenting stress management classes in hospitals and wellness centers since 1993. She has a Masters Degree in Complementary Therapies. She completed an internship at the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1994 under the direction of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Lenore is a Registered Nurse with over 30 years of nursing experience. Check out her website, Solid Ground!

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