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, December 13, 2011

You've Got the Gift List, but now it's Time for the Gratitude List!!!!

I am sitting here in my study where the rocking chair is right beside the window with the lighted candles. I just walked outdoors and the winter air was exhilerating. I looked up into the night sky at the brilliant stars and then at the old farmhouse where I live, with all the lighted candles glowing in the windows and it was so thrilling that I felt momentarily awed.

It hit me then. I am so very lucky to have a house. I don't want to take this blessing for granted. Especially now when there are so many people suffering without homes.

And then something else hit me. If I'm feeling so grateful, and if I'm going to make my students keep a GRATITUDE LIST next semester, then it seems only fair that I make one too. So I came inside and sat down here in the study. And now, here it goes. I have NO idea how long this list will go on so it will be kind of cool to see what emerges.

1) I am grateful for the sky, which is so often a beautiful blue.
2) I am grateful when the blue sky has clouds that are lit up by the sun and always changing.
3) I am grateful for my eyes that enable me to see the sky and the clouds and the stars and everything else that I see.
4) I am grateful for the fact I have a warm house.
5) I am grateful for the fact that I have dinner cooking on the stove.
6) I am grateful for the fact I have a loving partner.
7) I am grateful that I have three amazing children who make me smile every time they phone or email or visit.
8) I am grateful that I have two terrific and loving parents who are still alive at 85 years old. And they still occupy their own home.
9) I am grateful that I have two in-laws who are wonderful and also, independent (and headed out to explore the world shortly.)
10) I am grateful for two sisters and a brother, and two brothers-in-law, and a sister-in-law, and their spouses, all of whom I value very deeply.
11) I am grateful that I can sit here and compose a GRATITUDE list, as I'm sure there are millions of people around the world who for one reason or another are not in that privileged a position.'
12) I am grateful for clean water that flows magically out of my kitchen sink (it's well water and delicious to drink.)
13) I am grateful for my wood stove and grateful for the wood I can burn in it all winter.
14) I am grateful that I survived cancer ten years ago.
15) I am grateful that I have legs and arms.
16) I am grateful that I have toes and fingers.
17) I am grateful that I can read and write.
18) I am grateful for stars at night.
19) I am grateful for the sun and the moon.
20) I am grateful for the wind in the trees.
21) I am grateful for all the trees, especially the ones growing in my yard.
22) I am grateful for flowers in the spring.
23) I am grateful for my houseplants, two of which (the violets) are flowering right now, right here, on this desk.
24) I am grateful for the camera I have to take the photos I love to take.
25) I am grateful for this laptop on which I can write.

I think it's time to take a break. But that's not a bad list. I think it took me about half an hour to make that list. And the thing I realize...I think I could go on forever. I am reminded now of the Thanksgiving Prayer that I witnessed one day on the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian reservation in northern New York state. I sat and listened while a tribal leader thanked every single thing imaginable in the Universe. The Thanksgiving Prayer is a tradition, and now I understand why it is recited. When you start thanking every little thing around you, you start feeling the power of the world. You start feeling connected, and I think you cannot help but start feeling happier and more content.

To be continued...

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