MON 5 - 12 - 2022
Date: Feb 3, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
The ongoing quest for ultimate happiness
Nahla El-Zibawi

Last month, Yale, an American Ivy League research University, opened the students’ registration for a new course: “Psychology and the Good Life.” Surprisingly, the course, which mainly focuses on happiness, turned out to be Yale’s most popular course in the university’s history with around 1,182 undergraduate students enrolled in it. The course, which was proposed by Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology professor and the Head of Silliman College, was the result of students’ requests for a course on positive psychology, Woo-Kyoung Ahn the director of undergraduate studies in psychology at Yale said.

Accordingly, Dr. Santos detailed that the course aims to teach students how to be happy and how to reach a satisfying life. In one of her interviews she added: “Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus. With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.”

But, why did students’ ask for a course on positive psychology? Why is everyone seeking happiness and a better life? And what is happiness? Can it be defined?

Alannah Maynez, a 19-year-old freshman, who is enrolled in the course said: “In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb.” Hence, taking Alannah’s feeling about her colleagues, which can be easily proved by the fact that almost a quarter of students at Yale are enrolled in the course, and the fact that Harvard’s similar happiness class also became the university’s most popular offering shows the great need students have to learn to be happy.

Defining happiness has been a long human quest. Researchers divided happiness in to two categories “Eudaimonic” and “Hedonic.” The Eudaimonic concept, which originated from Aristotle’s school of thought, defined happiness as a person’s satisfaction. Thus, “Eudaimonic Happiness,” revolves around personal growth and the purpose of life, which means it is not related to a person’s current situation, yet it is the result of experiences and actions.

However, the Hedonic concept, which originated from Aristippus’ school of thought, defined happiness as the state of more pleasure and less pain. Hence, it revolves around the feelings of joy, pride and excitement, which shows that it is related to a person’s current emotions.

Consequently, in the 1990s, a new branch, “Positive Psychology,” emerged in the field of Psychology, aiming to find a definition for happiness. They stated that happiness cannot just be defined as a positive mood, and it is not the result of from moving from one joyful to situation to another.

This increasingly widespread interest that is found in today’s youth in putting happiness and a good life as a priority in their learning curve triggers us to think of several questions. Will these courses help students be more satisfied? Will they reach absolute happiness? Or will they always try to reach out for more?

Nahla El-Zibawi is project coordinator of the Outreach and Leadership Academy at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 03, 2018, on page 3.

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