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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Students Flipping Life Scripts: VERY POWERFUL WRITING EXERCISE!!

Students are writing up a storm in response to the Flip the Script assignment. Freshman Taina Wagnac handed in this incredibly powerful story the other day. Two days later, she flipped it around.

Here, first, is her original story, the tale of how she finally was reunited with the father she had never met before:

"A long-awaited reunion"

By Taina Wagnac

I was ten years old when I first met my father. I found him sitting in the living room when I rushed home from school that day, my report cart clutched tightly in my hands. My mother had promised me a brand-new bicycle as a reward for my good grades. He was wearing a silk black shirt with blue jeans. He had an air of power and strength about him. I had no idea who he was until my mother, who sat on a chair across from him, said “well, aren’t you going to hug your father?” I was shocked. I didn’t know I had a father.

The only thing I knew about him was his name, Jean-Mary Wagnac. My mother didn’t keep any pictures of him so I didn’t know what he looked like. No word could have described the many emotions I felt that day. It was a mixture of anger, joy, and sadness. I wanted to run toward him and hug him like I have never hugged anyone before. I wanted him to take me out for a sundae or to the park. But I was rooted to my spot; I could not move.

My father slowly got up from the couch and walked toward me. His eyes glanced down at the white crumpled paper in my hands.

“What you got there kiddo?” he asked in a rusty voice. My father reached for the report card and I felt it slip from my grasp. He began to pace around the living room, looking over my grades and making comments here and there, “a 90 in French…not bad, could be better….need to improve in math…”

As he paced around the room, a wave of anger washed over me. Who was this guy? Who did he think he was, coming back after years of abandonment and immediately assuming the role of my father? I didn’t even know if he was really my father or if this was a joke. I looked over at my mother. She had her elbows on her knees and her hands covered her face. She looked so weak and fragile. My mother dropped her hands from her face and looked at me. She tried to smile but to no avail.

For years, I dreamed of meeting my father. I was the only one of my friends who never had a father waiting in front of the school gates. Every night, I would dream of my reunion with my father. He would bring me tons of gifts and beg me to forgive him. He then would weave these stories of how he was stranded in a forest and had no access to a phone and had no way to communicate with my mother. That, in fact, he did not abandon me and that my mother and I were the only ones that kept him alive.

My so-called father stopped pacing around the living room and looked up from my report card. He looked at me and noticed that my fists were tightly clenched.

“Taina, are you alright?” he asked me quietly, concern showing in his eyes.

Something inside me snapped when he said my name and I let out a bloodcurdling scream. My mother jumped up from the chair, her eyes wide open, and my father dropped the report card and backed away from me. I wanted to scream at him to leave and never come back. My mother and I were fine without him. She was working hard to provide a life for herself and me.

Couldn’t he see that he was no longer needed? I wanted to know why he had left when I was merely a newborn and if he even thought of us and how we were doing. I wanted to know all these things. But when I opened my mouth again, no words came out, only a small whimper. I was afraid of the answers. I didn’t want to know the reasons why he’d left for fear that I was one of them. I was afraid of the truth. In all of my life, I had never felt so small and defenseless.

My world was falling apart and there was nothing I could do about it. Without a word, I escaped to my small room. I lay down on my bed, placed my pillow over my face and let my salt tears flow down my face. Till this day, I barely speak to my father only on birthdays and Christmas. I have yet to forgive him for leaving my mother and me.

NOW READ the FLIPPED SCRIPT, where writer Taina Wagnac gets in touch with her anger. There is of course more than one way to "flip the script," on a story, and ultimately, the idea is to work toward writing a version of the story in which the narrator is able to embrace acceptance and/or forgiveness.

No comments:

Post a Comment