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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CLASS # 1: Stress and Happiness and A Wondrous Winter Scene!

We probably broke at least 65 University rules by lighting a candle to start our first Happiness class today. We spent a few minutes writing about stress -- it was a very messy day with snow and ice trying the nerves of any and everyone attempting to get to the U for the first day of classes.

Then we switched gears and wrote about something -- however small -- that had made us happy in the past day or so.

One student said it was returning to school, seeing her roommate after a month-long holiday break -- they cranked up the music (Backstreet Boys!) and danced around their dorm room together!

Another student said that she had been overjoyed to find a parking spot exactly where she needed one.

A third student said he had heard from a friend that he'd met in a meditation class, and was delighted to reconnect.

For me, the moment occurred as I was walking across the ice-crusted campus weighed down with four bags full of schoolbooks and other gear. It had taken a lot longer to drive the 40 miles from home to school and I'd had to take my husband's car as we had an accident in mine on Saturday night (hitting a chunk of ice -- it left us with two wrecked tires and a damaged rim). My husband's car hesitates going into first gear and let me just say, I hate driving that vehicle (not him, he loves the car, go figure.)

Anyway, there I was, arms full of school junk, laden down and stressed because I was arriving on campus late when suddenly I noticed a student peering up into the snowy pine trees. She was taking a picture of the beautiful ice-coated pine trees! I glanced at the scene that she was capturing and smiled.

It was a winter wonderland, for sure, the pine branches sparkling and icy and gorgeous.

I smiled and thought how grateful I was that this stranger had showed me a moment of pure beauty on a lovely winter day!

1 comment:

  1. And I'm particularly happy that you are sharing this class online. Thank you! I can't recall if your extensive reading list includes Jane Kenyon's marvel of a poem, "Happiness" or if you've mentioned it elsewhere. It awes me to know that Kenyon, a former poet laureate of New Hampshire, had written it after learning that she had terminal cancer: