Last week, a friend of ours stopped to visit. She asked how our prep for the happiness class at UM was going. We said fine. She asked how we felt about the online comments that were critical of our new happiness class. Not having read any critical comments, I shrugged. She elaborated, “You know, people said that having a happiness class at UM is one of the things wrong with UM and higher education.”
Instantly, a small wave of anger rose up in my chest. I may have offered up a sarcastic retort or two. As is usually best, I’ll spare you the details of retorts. After she left, I ruminated a bit. I imagined a range of fantastic scenarios during which I experienced gratification from confronting our critics. These too, are best left to everyone’s imagination.
Eventually, I settled into a better place. I decided that the ironic conclusion is that I need to get more information about our new happiness class out there. One super-popular phenomenon right now—maybe especially in the age of the internet—has to do with people commenting on things, despite not having all the facts. I do it myself. Sometimes I critique things that I don’t know much about. Having an opinion is easy. Having an informed opinion is harder. Being partially informed generally makes critiquing others easier. I decided that, given my behavior, I shouldn’t complain too much when people disparage our happiness class, even though they don’t have all the facts.
This brought me to a calmer place. Instead of venting anger, I’m channeling my anger into the proliferation of information.
To start, for critics of our happiness course at UM, I have a few questions, some of which may still have an angry edge.
- What do you know about the origins of the positive psychology movement? Were you in San Francisco at the American Psychological Association conference in 1998, when Martin E. P. Seligman officially launched the strengths in psychology movement? I was. Using my best academic jargon, being in the room when Seligman changed the course of modern psychology was pretty cool stuff.
- Do you know why Seligman launched the positive psychology movement? Do you have any sense of what he was studying before he pivoted toward strengths and positive psychology? Ever heard of learned helplessness?
- Did you know there’s an academic Journal of Positive Psychology? Have you read any JPP research articles? How about the Journal of Happiness Studies? Been doing any reading there? If not, you might want to consider enrolling in a class in happiness. You’re too late to get into ours, but there’s a ton of online and in-person stuff out there from Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, and other institutions, although I prefer the University of Montana.
- What do you suppose Aristotle thought about happiness? Have you heard of eudaimonia? Do you understand what Aristotle meant by eudaimonia or anything pertaining to his concept of the golden mean? If not, you might want to consider a happiness class . . . or a Google search. The golden mean is very important to understanding virtue, and virtue, well, having virtue is virtuous, which is a good thing.
- Are you aware of the rates of depression, suicidality, anxiety, and unhappiness in college students? Are you aware that in published research studies there are at least a dozen specific experiential activities that have scientific evidence supporting their use to increase happiness? Can you name any? Have you tried any? How are you feeling? If you’re so damn grumpy that you spend your time posting negativity on social media, you should definitely consider a happiness class. One interesting tidbit of research information that I’ll share in our happiness class is the fact that the number of hateful Twitter words used in specific counties in the U.S. are significantly correlated with increased coronary heart disease events in those same counties. Does that mean offering up nasty posts or tweets will increase your risk of death from a heart attack? Maybe. Maybe not. As I’m sure you know, the basic scientific rule that correlation does not imply causation means that there may be much more to the story. You might have to take a happiness class to learn whether intentionally posting fewer nasty comments online could increase your longevity.
Inspired by critiques of the existence of our happiness class (thank you, thank you so much!), I’ve decided to increase the frequency of my happiness posts and updates. Look for much more here on specific happiness assignments from our University of Montana Happiness Class. You can follow along. Unfortunately, the class is pretty much full-up now, but there will be more opportunities to take University of Montana happiness classes this summer and during the next academic year.
Below, I’ve included the description of the course from the syllabus:
COURSE CONTENT AND DESCRIPTION: Over the past 20 years, research on happiness has flourished. Due to the natural interest that most Americans have for happiness, research findings (and unfounded rumors) have been widely distributed worldwide. Every day, happiness is promoted via online blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, Twitter posts, Instagram videos, TikTok, and through many other media and social media venues. Ironically, instead of increases in national happiness, most epidemiological research indicates that all across the U.S., children, adolescents, adults, and seniors are experiencing less happiness, more depression, and higher suicide rates. To help sort out scientific reality from unsubstantiated rumors, in this course, we will describe, discuss, and experience the art and science of happiness. What this means is that we will define happiness, read a popular happiness book, examine scientific research studies, try out research experiments in class, engage in extended happiness lab assignments, and use published instruments to measure our own happiness and well-being. Overall, we will focus on how happiness and well-being are manifest in the physical, cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, spiritual, behavioral, and contextual/cultural dimensions of our lives.
Have a happy weekend . . . and watch for upcoming happiness assignments.