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happy in crowds Well, we'll see. But I am experimenting with something new: optimism. And I figured the title of this post was a good start. And the exclamation point? A good sign! A good sign indeed! Wait, I might be happier already! This course is magic.

Course? Yes. As of Monday, all three of us Rowley girls are enrolled in some kind of school. Per the sappy quasi-novel I wrote on Monday, Toddler is an official preschooler. And Baby is now in three, yes three classes (I'm a pinch psycho). I mean she is eleven months and all babies this age should be in music, art, and gymnastics classes, right? Oh, and on the waiting list for that famous East Side enrichment class, right? Yes, this is the portrait of normal. Yes.

But the point here, my friends, is that I am back in school too! No, I don't get to don cute little outfits and stroll hallways and slam lockers and cruise campus greens. My school is online. But it is school. And what am I studying? The Science of Happiness. Actually, the course is called Foundations of Positive Psychology and it's a course that became wildly popular at Harvard and is now offered by the esteemed Tal Ben-Sharar at UPenn. (Many thanks to fellow blogger Samosas For One for pointing the way to this class!)

Anyway, we all know that (1) I am an incurable academic romantic; and (2) Struggling on a daily basis to define happiness (I write about it over and over and I read about it constantly); and (3) Optimism is a major theme of my next novel. So this class had my name written all over it.

And yet. I read through the course description, on how it focuses on positive emotions and "the good" and frankly, my cynical bells started chiming. To me, a jaded, oft pessimistic, city kid, this course just seemed like another self-help-esque motivational load of crap. I have nothing principled against the Self-Help movement, but I am suspicious of the silver bullet, quick fix prescriptive messages it tends to send. This is not me. I am not an Answer Girl. I am a Question Girl.

But then I dug a little deeper. I did my research and learned that Positive Psychology is in fact rooted in traditional psychology and in essence a reaction to its two historical paradigms (Humanism and Psychoanalysis). I learned that Positive Psychology focuses on, and examines, what is right with people, what contributes to optimal flourishing and happiness as opposed to the conventional focus on limitation and illness.

Anyway. I read and read and started nodding. I decided to go for it. And I am thrilled I did. In the first lecture, Professor Ben-Sharar told us why he does what he does. He explained that he was a computer science major at Harvard, that he was doing well socially and academically and athletically, that he had all of those quintessential external markers of success, but that he was not happy. At this realization, he decided that he needed to study why.

What is happiness? And can it be taught?

Anyway, I have been a student of his class for only a couple of days now. But I have already learned so much. And despite my deep doubts, despite my initial thought that the mere notion of a "science of happiness" is preposterous, I'm pumped. There is something to this. There is something to the idea of stripping away all of the excess that we accumulate over years of life and figuring out what is already there, what is basic, what is good.

Hey, if optimism can be learned, I am happy to be a student again. And you, my friends, are lucky. I will pass along bits and pieces of what I learn. And maybe, just maybe, by following my transformation (optimism, yay!) you will transform a bit too. Can't hurt to hope, huh?

To prompt discussion, the Professor asked us a question. He asked us what we thought the best generators of happiness are. As a follow-up, he asked whether after just one lecture, our beliefs about happiness had evolved at all. This is what I wrote:

The best generators of happiness:

good conversation being slapped with a new idea seeing the poetry in the everyday watching a stranger smile connecting the scattered dots being honest being loved loving laughter admitting defeat admitting success admitting struggle bulldozing the facade looking past the resume nibbling on baby toes asking questions and letting them echo

How have my thoughts changed? Not sure yet. But I am at once encouraged and inspired that there is this purported "science of happiness." I love the idea that we aren't relegated to that existential plot of earth on which we currently stand, that we can, with work, hard work, chip away at the excess stone of limitation and uncover our proverbial David.

My deep concern, one that I hope fades, is that focusing so intently on happiness will make it even more elusive. I have always felt that happiness is something that we stumble upon in leading what we deem to be good lives, in loving, and shrouding others with our love, in nurturing passions and ideas. My personal worry is that "studying" happiness will make it flee. I hope to be wrong. ______ So, what do you think of this idea of there being a science of happiness? Are you skeptical like I first was? For you, what are the best generators of happiness?

This Is Why

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