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, April 13, 2011

What it Feels like to "Flip the Script"

Note to readers: Jamie Gibbons, a sophomore at the University at Albany, SUNY, wrote a set of very moving "Flip the Script" narratives that involve her grandfather. The first is called "Dead Flowers." The "flipped" story is "Red Roses." Here, Jamie writes about what it felt like to write those stories, and how the writing helped her to accept his passing.

By Jamie Gibbons

The "flip the script" assignment was a very difficult one for me to write. My grandfather and I were extremely close, especially during my teenage years. My grandparents were the two people that I could always count on, and get along with, all of the time. They were my favorite people to visit. My grandfather had been in and out of the hospital for a while. But when he went in during my senior year, I knew things were different, and worse, this time around. The day that I found out that he had passed away was the worst day of my life. My heart was broken into a million little pieces, and my entire life was changed forever.

I hardly talk about that day, or the months that led up to it. It becomes too difficult for me to speak about it, and it only brings back all of the horrible emotions I felt then. But when we received this assignment, something made me want to share my story. As I was writing the first draft, from my point of view, I cried at almost every paragraph. Tears of happiness, from the good memories, and tears of sadness, from the bad moments. It was hard for me to relive that bad of a time in my life.

When I finished that draft, I sent it to my grandmother. I talked to her on the phone every couple of days, and I thought she would like to read this story. After she read it, she called me immediately. She said that she had cried because of how touching the story was to her. I then proceeded to tell her that the other part of the assignment was that I could re-write the story, from my grandfather’s point of view. I told her that I did not know if I could do that. Not only would it be hard, but my grandfather was never one to share his emotions, or make it publicly known how he was feeling about something or someone. She told me that she wanted me to write it, and that I would not have to make up how he felt.

For the next hour, my grandmother told me how my grandfather had always felt about me. She explained how he felt before he went into the hospital, while he was in there, and on his final day. In a way, it was hard for me to hear, because it only made me miss him more than I already did. But, it was also good for me to hear, because it made me realize how much our relationship meant to him as well.

While I wrote down what my grandmother said, and made it into the second story, I cried again. I miss him more and more every day, and these stories made it more difficult. But they also helped me. They made me realize that what I had with him was something great, and that I was so lucky to have had this relationship. The flip the script assignment made me come to terms with my feelings about that event in my life. I realize now that although it will never be a happy memory, the moments I spent during my life with him will always be with me and remain as happy moments.

I would recommend this experience to others to try. I found that this writing helped me release built up emotions that I continued to hold in. Releasing these emotions made remembering that time, and other good memories, easier to talk about. This experience will help others come to terms with how they felt, and how they should continue to feel about the situation they have written about.

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