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.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Warm Up: Writing in a Sunny Waterfall

NOTE TO READERS: Something quite amazing happened in my happiness class yesterday. I decided to try something new; like so many of my best ideas, the exercise came to me while I was meditating in the morning before class. When the students arrived, I asked them to freewrite for a few minutes, as I usually do, so that they could vent their thoughts and clear their minds before class started. Then I asked them to close their eyes, and I led them in this exercise I called "Writing in a Sunny Waterfall."

Before I started reading the words out loud, I was worried that it wouldn't work. I was afraid that when I finished, the students would say, "why did you make us do this boring thing?"

Something quite different happened.

When I finished reading, and looked up, each and every student in the class was sitting there in perfect stillness. There wasn't a sound in the room. Not a single student opened his or her eyes for almost 25 minutes. I was shocked. I kept looking at my watch thinking, should I just let them sit there? I did. I was astonished at the power of these simple words to relax a group of young people.

Finally I decided it was time to bring them back to the classroom. When I did, several of the students said they felt refreshed. One young woman said that she had never been able to meditate before, but that this exercise had helped her sink into a deep meditative state. I asked the students to write about what they felt. After a discussion, we decided as a class that we would try this exercise again. My husband thinks I should record the words and include them on the Happiness class blogsite. Maybe I will, so that other people can try it if they want to relax in a sunny waterfall.

Suddenly, we are all sitting in the sun, below a gigantic waterfall.

The water showers each of us in the most blissfully perfect temperature,





You look up and see the tiny little prisms of color in the water droplets as the sun passes through them.

You just close your eyes and sit there, letting the gloriously warm water fall on your head....

feeling it slip down your forehead...

over your eyelids...

onto your eyelashes...

your nose...

your lips...

your chin...

the back of your neck...

your shoulders....

down your arms and legs...

your hands and fingers and toes.

You just sit there, letting the water flow down, carrying away all of your stress.

You don't have to go anywhere.

You don't have to do anything.

You just sit there and

go limp.

The water pools at your feet and disappears.

You feel so relaxed that you smile.

If you were to look up, you would see the water sparkling in the sun.

You can feel the water,

the warmth of it, the sun's rays gently hitting the top of your head,

You just let the water drain every bit of stress away.

You just sit there in your own perfect waterfall, and all around you are the most beautiful flowers and trees.

You stare at the most beautiful flowers and trees. You

would swear that you were

in some sort of Paradise.

When you're ready,

write about what it looks and feels like

to sit there.

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