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'The science of happiness is not a secret' CU Boulder class delves into the science of happiness
Daily Camera - 6/2/2023
Jun. 2—Pursuing happiness may actually make you more miserable.
In fact, research shows that pursuing happiness for the sake of it makes people more at risk for a host of mental health challenges, said University of Colorado Boulder Professor June Gruber, including depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
Gruber said the more people try to pursue happiness, the more likely they are to miss out on the moments that give them joy.
"People may think we know what makes us happy, and we may think we know how to make decisions to guide us toward that, and sometimes we're wrong," Gruber said.
Gruber, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder, explored these ideas and more in a class called "The Science of Happiness," which was offered for the first time this spring. Her teaching won her the Cogswell Award for Inspirational Instruction, an award recognizing inspirational teaching.
Ethan Robinson, who took Gruber's class as a senior and is now graduated, said the class improved his well-being and happiness. He said he continues to incorporate what he learned into his everyday life and is now considering pursuing the field as a possible career path.
"I learned how to see things in a different way and slow down a bit, since all of our lives are moving so quickly from one thing to the next," Robinson said. "We don't always just slow down and appreciate what we have around us."
Part of that appreciation was facilitated by "science to life" activities, where students had a weekly activity to apply what they were learning in class to their own life. For example, keeping a daily gratitude journal or going for a 20 minute nature walk.
Gruber said the science tells of three main things people can do to be happy. One is to do things for other people. Whether that's helping with tasks, giving gifts or expressing appreciation, Gruber said connecting with people and having good relationships is important to overall well-being. Gruber also said happiness can be found in doing things that give a greater sense of purpose and meaning, and to not to forget basic healthy habits like getting enough sleep and exercise.
Happiness is less about feeling good and more about finding purpose in the world, Gruber said. She said connecting with others and having an outward focus is more important, even if it doesn't always generate positive feelings.
"The science is telling us it's about accepting all of our feelings, whether they are feelings of sadness or frustration, or even guilt, that allowing ourselves to have a diverse range of emotions is quite healthy," Gruber said.
Gruber is also the director of the Positive Emotion and Psychopathology lab where students study relationship between positive emotions and mood disorders.
The work in the lab is the research side of what she teaches in class, Gruber said, because it focuses on answering questions related to mental health and well-being in young adults.
For example, lab manager and graduate student Luiza Rosa described a project focusing on young adults and their mental health over multiple years, starting as a freshman through senior year. Rosa said the students were surveyed each year, starting right before the pandemic, and the lab is now working to process the data so they can see changes in mental health.
Stevi Ibonic just finished her second year of her doctoral program and her fourth year working in the lab. Her master's thesis explored the importance of social networks and risk of bipolar disorder in emerging adults. For more information on the lab research or to make a donation, visit gruberpeplab.com/research.php.
Moving forward, Gruber said she wants to expand the class by creating a free online series of interviews with experts on how to live a healthier, happier life. Her goal is to create more free resources online to spread information about happiness and well-being to people in Boulder and beyond.
"The science of happiness is not a secret, and it's something that should be accessible and free to everyone," Gruber said.
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