Hundreds attend happiness panel

From left: Shira Telushkin ’14, professor Shelley Kagan, professor Laurie Santos and professor Michael Frame discussed how to achieve happiness.
From left: Shira Telushkin ’14, professor Shelley Kagan, professor Laurie Santos and professor Michael Frame discussed how to achieve happiness. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

Hundreds of students flooded into LC 101 last night to hear a panel of professors discuss happiness.

The talk, hosted by Vita Bella, an on-campus magazine dedicated to happiness and beauty, featured professors Shelley Kagan, Laurie Santos and Michael Frame. Moderated by Vita Bella Editor-in-Chief Shira Telushkin ’14, the talk responded to student questions on topics ranging from relationships to depression. While offering diverse opinions on individual questions, the professors all encouraged students to pursue their passions, help others and avoid fretting about the future.

“Most of the people who have the coolest lives and are the happiest are on completely different paths than they expected,” Santos said, while telling students to not be afraid of trying new things throughout life.

Near the beginning of the talk, the panelists stressed finding balance in the trade-offs students face between socializing and studying, after which they discussed finding happiness at work.

The panelists urged students to avoid careers in consulting, which Kagan said had neither a high degree of autonomy nor genuine meaning — two criteria he said are key to happiness in the workplace.

“Do you really want to devote your life to making other rich people even richer?” Kagan asked, drawing applause from the audience.

The professors then discussed students’ anxiety about the future, and Santos told students that they should expect everything to work out. But Kagan disagreed, telling students, “Sadly, some of you will screw up.” Frame, meanwhile, suggested that students “move outward” if they feel depressed and, above all, spend time with cats.

The panelists finished by emphasizing the importance of helping others, which Frame said was “scalable,” and could mean anything from “saying hi to a homeless guy” to spending life teaching students how to solve quadratic equations.

The editors of Vita Bella decided to host the panel as a means of creating more public discourse on issues of happiness, which they said is an aim of their publication.

“We wanted there to be more of a conversation about the things we’re writing about,” former Vita Bella Editor-in-Chief McKay Nield ’13 said.

The large attendance at the talk far exceeded the expectations of organizers Telushkin and Nield. Telushkin said the group had originally anticipated 30 to 50 attendees, but after over 200 students RSVP’d via email, Telushkin moved the talk to a larger venue in LC.

Thirty minutes before the event, students had already arrived, and by the time the panel started at 7 p.m., the aisles in the lecture hall were packed and students stood in the doorways.

Of six students interviewed, all had largely positive reactions to the panelists.

Though Brandon Li ’14 said he enjoyed the panel, he added that it did not exactly match his expectations.

“I was expecting it to be more about the meaning of life than specifically happiness,” Brandon Li ’14 said.

James Tan ’14 said the talk could have benefitted from the perspective of someone who had not found their passion in life as the panelists had, adding that there was “not enough diversity.”

Next term, Vita Bella will host a series of events to discuss friendship.

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