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Program directs students to felicity

Mel Flanagan | Friday, April 5, 2013


Students learned how to manufacture personal happiness at Happiness Intervention, an event hosted by the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education (OADE) on Wednesday. 

The program, led by University Counseling Center staff psychologist Megan Brown,  was the latest installment to the Wellness Wednesday series, an initiative started last semester.

OADE health educator Bridget Hoffman said Wellness Wednesdays was started in an effort to create holistic wellness programs for students.

“The hope was to establish more programs that are holistically based on wellness,” Hoffman said. “They cover various topics from stress reduction to fun exercise activities to cooking on a college budget.”

OADE developed the concept for this week’s program after screening ‘The Happy Movie’ on the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness a few weeks ago, Hoffman said. Designing follow up sessions focusing on how students could effectively increase their positive emotion level would hopefully improve student happiness, she said.

Brown led the group of attendees through multiple exercises, which ranged from measuring positive emotion and life satisfaction on the subjective happiness scale to writing down three things they are grateful for having in their lives

“We talked about how that [gratitude] felt – that was the first intervention,” Brown said. “Gratitude has been studied in the field of positive psychology as one intervention that helps a lot of people feel more positive.”

Brown also shared several studies that demonstrate the benefits of feeling gratitude, including one that asked participants to list five things they were grateful for on a weekly or daily basis.

“[The studies] found rather consistently that people felt better about their lives as a whole, they were more optimistic about the future, they reported fewer health complaints,” Brown said. “The gratitude group also spent more time exercising, 1.5 more hours per week.”

It is important, however, to distinguish positive emotions like gratitude from happiness, Brown said.

“Gratitude is a positive feeling but you might not be happy,” she said. “Things might be going badly in your life, but having gratitude, that positive emotion, still lights up the same area of the brain that happiness does.”

Joy, compassion and other positive emotions serve the same purpose, Brown said.

Brown concluded the session by having attendees form a happiness plan for them to move forward. She said students focused on what they could do to improve not only their positive emotions, but also the positive emotions of others.

“The benefits of happiness, of positive emotion in general, are that people are healthier, they live longer and they’re more resilient in the face of things that go wrong,” Brown said. “Not only are they okay after a tragedy, but they are flourishing. They are better off than if the tragedy never happened.”

The Happiness Intervention aimed to increase the overall happiness of students on campus, Hoffman said.

“Students here are set to such high academic standards, which is awesome, but they tend to become anxious and stressed out,” Hoffman said. “We were able to just bring the whole idea of being grateful for something different every day rather than just focusing on, ‘What are the tasks that I need to accomplish today.'”