Reaching out and doing good makes being happier easier. / Thinkstock
Amid endless assignments, looming deadlines and stress, college life isn’t all a bowl of cherries — especially as the winter break recedes into the past. January is a time when students often struggle with the blues, but the up-and-coming curriculum of positive psychology is making its mark.
Just ask Stella Grizont, founder of well-being learning company WOOPAAH and instructor of “The Science of Happiness” at the online learning company Udemy.com. Grizont earned her master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania and points out the new science understands what makes life worth living from an empirical evidence-based perspective. She says that positive psychology focuses on what’s right with people and “how to go from zero to 10-plus.”
The relatively new field dives into theory and application with classes like “Approaches to the Good Life” and “Applied Positive Interventions.” Grizont learned that exuding positive emotions and experiencing a generally high level of life satisfaction have a huge impact on one’s life span. Get this — you’re twice as likely to be alive after 65 if you’re happy versus unhappy, you’re three times more creative on the job and 30 percent more productive at work. “In fact, people even think you’re hotter,” she dishes.
And it’s not about trying to be happy all the time either. According to Tal Ben-Shahar, best-selling author of “Choose the Life You Want,” a person can endure emotional pain at times and still be happy overall in the sense of an “overall experience of pleasure and meaning.”
Recognizing that happy people enjoy positive emotions while perceiving their lives as purposeful, Ben-Shahar says it’s critical for students to give themselves permission to have feelings. Instead of ignoring them, uncomfortable emotions should rise to the surface. “Allowing ourselves to experience emotions such as envy or anger or fear or sadness is central to a happy and fulfilling life.”
Not only should students acknowledge emotions, they should slow down and simplify daily life. Ben-Shahar, a former Harvard professor of positive psychology, says we’re generally too busy trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. He adds it’s OK to not check emails for a few hours and it’s OK to not have a phone on 24/7. “Doing less instead of more unlocks the key to happiness. We are in a better position to enjoy the treasures of happiness that are inside us and around us.”
Such treasures, he says, can be found by focusing on the positive and expressing gratitude, whether it’s by keeping a regular gratitude journal, meditating or praying. “We too often take the positive elements of our lives for granted. We have to learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.”
Four tips to building happiness habits:
1. Celebrate Thanksgiving today. “Appreciate three things that are going right in your life right now and write them down. Do this daily,” explains Grizont.
2. Prioritize people. Spend time with or call those you love to tell them you care; research finds that relationships drive happiness.
3. Work your strengths. Identify your top strength and find one new way to apply it. She notes, “Researchers found this can decrease depression.”
4. Do three nice deeds daily. It’s not just enough to be kind every once in a while; Grizont says studies reveal the benefits of doing good rubs off when you’re at it several times a day. Hold the door open, give a compliment, offer a helping hand.