The Year of Happy – Year Long Course to Focus on Happiness
Be happier this year –
apply the science of happiness to your life
Positive psychology, the science of happiness, is learning new things every day about how to bring more positive emotions and meaning to our lives. But the trick is sorting through the mess of sensational media headlines and dry academic papers and applying those lessons – can we do it?
In this course, each month will focus on one skill or activity proven to make us happier, like optimism, relationships, meaning, and goals (see below). As we practice new life habits, we’ll also be learning through readings, videos, and discussions. Each month is structured like this:
- Week 1: What is it?
- Week 2: How to cultivate it. This is where we start the happiness practice, which will continue for the next three weeks.
- Week 3: The benefits
- Week 4: When it’s hard. Learn tips for overcoming resistance, staying motivated, and avoiding the common pitfalls.
“Gratitude is a way of life,” says psychologist Robert Emmons. Learn to cultivate gratitude, and we won’t just be saying “thank you” more often. Our brain will form a habit of scanning the world for the positives; we may start to feel wonder and awe at the gifts of nature or the smiles of our loved ones. If you’re skeptical, we dare you to watch some of the inspirational, gratitude-inducing videos in this section and try not to get goosebumps.
Optimism isn’t just seeing the glass half-full or believing things will turn out okay. It’s a more deeply rooted habit of how we talk to ourselves – was that mistake we made evidence that the world is unfair and we’re failures, or was it just a fluke? Our childhood and life experiences have led us to cultivate an optimistic or pessimistic style, but the good news is that we can change. Learn to challenge your knee-jerk pessimism and you’ll be more successful, more resilient to stress, and more confident.
When we log onto Facebook, it prompts us with a question: “What’s on your mind?” We have swung wildly in the direction of introspection, obsessed with knowing our thoughts, feelings, and desires. We spend too much time regretting the past and worrying about the future. Much of that time is counterproductive, tainted by pessimism, rumination, and passivity. This month will give you the tools and know-how to stop the spiral of negative thoughts and live more in the present.
No, we won’t be volunteering at soup kitchens the whole rainy month of April. The kindness that brings us happiness can be far more humble, and barely seem like effort at all – holding a door for a stranger, grabbing a latte for a coworker, or spending an extra 15 minutes reading to our kids. Once we’ve mustered up the energy for a few acts of kindness, we’ll see that kindness isn’t such a chore at all – that being kind to others is a way of treating ourselves to its mood-, health-, and relationship-boosting benefits.
“Happiness is love. Full stop.” These are the famous words of George Vaillant, the principal investigator in a 75-year longitudinal study of Harvard graduates, The Grant Study. He’s summing up what they’ve learned about what brings satisfaction in life. But as we all know, relationships can also be one of our biggest sources of unhappiness – so this month will look at what happy relationships have in common and how to diversify and deepen our connections.
You know that feeling when time stops and you forget about your worries and your hunger – you forget about your body and mind altogether – because you’re so immersed in what you’re doing? That feeling is called engagement or flow, and it’s so crucial that it’s one of the five pillars of well-being. But many of us go through our lives without much flow, feeling mostly boredom or anxiety. If that describes you, this month will give you lots of fun and interesting ideas about how to get more engaged in life.
If you sign up for this course, you’ll already have an idea of what it feels like to work toward a significant goal. Goals give us a sense of structure and meaning: we can see the goalposts up ahead and we know where we’re going in life. We happily anticipate accomplishing them and start to feel more confident and efficacious because we’re making progress. If life is about growing and learning, goals are what help us stay on that path.
Given that we spend half our waking hours at work, the topic definitely deserves a full month of study. How do you know if your job is right for you? How can you be happier at work without changing your job? Employers are starting to care more and more about employee satisfaction, but being happy at work is ultimately up to you.
A dense, moist chocolate cake punctuated by layers of light, fluffy vanilla icing. A pink sunset, reflecting on apartment buildings and covering the street in a rosy glow. A friend’s laugh, eyes creasing up and obnoxious chuckles. Everyday life is filled with opportunities for savoring, but we often let them pass by without tasting, seeing, or hearing fully. This month, we’ll learn to be more present and find happiness in life’s ordinary moments.
No happiness course would be complete without a section on how to deal with the downs of life. Luckily, this month should be far from depressing: most traumatic events are much less of a blow to our happiness than we expect. And we’re beginning to understand how some people emerge from trauma feeling happier, more grateful, and more purposeful. This month, we’ll learn how to prepare for the worst so we don’t have to fear it so much.
As the holidays approach, we’ll turn to the physical body – and how to boost mood on a physiological level. You’ve probably heard that exercise makes us happier, but we’ll go deeper into why and when that works – and how daily slogs on the treadmill might not be the best option. Expect lots of smiling and laughter.
December: Meaning and spirituality
If you’re concerned that the pursuit of happiness seems superficial or hedonistic, this month is for you. Psychologists recognize that not all happiness involves smiles and boisterous laughter; sometimes we find fulfillment in the struggle, the challenge, or even the trauma. We’ll look at how to find purpose and meaning amidst the rush and minutiae of life, and how secular and religious spirituality can play a role. And congrats! The science of happiness is now working for you, and you have habits and practices to last a lifetime.