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 & WRITING THE HAPPIER SELF: Spring 2012
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.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Journal Exercises to Increase Your Happiness
By Claudia Ricci
This year's Happiness class doesn't start until January 18th, but ideas for the class are starting to roll around in my head like sparkling marbles, in part because students interested in the class keep coming to my office to ask me what it's all about. So here is a preview of some of the journal assignments that I will present to the students. I can't decide yet which ones will be mandatory. The Gratitude List certainly will be, maybe others too. I invite you to make comments and suggestions for other assignments.
1) Start a GRATITUDE LIST being very specific about the things in life for which you are grateful: "I am grateful that I have eyes to see the sky. I am grateful that I have teeth to chew my food. I am grateful that I have food." See how long you can make this list. Can you make it a daily practice to write down three or four or five things for which you are grateful?
2) Identity the "small" moments in which you become keenly aware of something that makes you joyful. Be specific: e.g., “I saw a tree this morning covered in ice and the sun hitting it was so pretty, I just stood there in awe.” Turn these into Haiku? Longer poems?
3) Describe specific SENSATIONS associated when you are really paying attention to what you are doing: "I enjoyed the smell of my morning coffee. I enjoyed the way the warm cup felt in my hand. I enjoyed the smell of the night air when I stepped outdoors."
4) The next time you find yourself feeling calm, take a moment and "draw" the feeling associated with it. Find a color for it. A visual. Collect images that make you feel calm.
5) Identify one small thing you can do to help another person.
6) Stop what you are doing and close your eyes. Take one or two cleansing breaths. Then start to breathe naturally and label your breathing in the following way: Take a breath in, then let it go and label it SKY. Take a second breath in, let it go and think WATER. Breathe in a third time, breathe out and label it MOUNTAIN. Label the fourth breath SUN. Then repeat this cycle a few times. Can you work up to ten cycles? Write about what it feels like to label your breathing in this way. Can you find a few minutes to do this every day?
7) Make a list of ways in which you can show others what it means to be happy.
8) Have a conversation about mindfulness with someone, in which you try to explain what it means. Then write about that conversation and what it taught you.
8) Forgive someone for something small. Write about that. Forgive someone for something "bigger." Write about the idea that we should "Forgive everyone, for everything.”
9) The next time you get angry at someone, write about it. Write about why you are angry and how exactly it feels in your body. Be specific. Put the writing away and later come back and write these words at the top of the page: "What will this matter in 100 years?" See if you can “enlighten” yourself as to why that anger is/was there and why being angry doesn't really get you anywhere, except for more angry.
10) Do something nice for yourself and write about how that feels. Then, do something nice for someone else and write about how that feels.
11) Write about whether or not you are impatient. What does it feel like to be impatient? What prompts you to feel impatient?
12) Find a living object (flower? Tree? A baby? ☺) and see if you can stare at it for five whole minutes without stopping. Then write about what that felt like.
13) See if the next time you eat, you can wait one whole minute before you dig in. Later, write about what went on in your head during that minute. What did you notice? Did you feel more gratitude for the food? Did you think about any of the people (farmer, factory worker, trucker, grocery store shelver, grocery store check out person, cook) who had to devote their time to making it possible to have this food?
14) Write a couple of paragraphs about the sky. Then wait a few hours and write about the sky again. Has it changed? How? Write about how you feel about a blue sky. A white sky. Clouds. A sunset. A rainbow. Write about the prettiest sky you've ever seen.
15) TRY LAUGHING. (If you can't find anything to laugh about, watch this video of a baby laughing as his father rips up a rejection letter.) SEE IF YOU CAN LAUGH FOR ONE MINUTE 44 SECONDS, just like this baby did! Then write about laughing and why you think research shows that laughter can help you be physically healthier.