On Tuesday, the Calhoun Happiness Project held a meeting to reflect on the passing of Calhoun Dean Leslie Woodard.
The Calhoun Happiness Project consists of a group of Calhoun students who meet monthly to discuss chapters of Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Happiness Project.” They also strive to move forward the positive psychology movement — a recent branch of psychology that takes an optimistic view of the human experience and emphasizes reacting positively to difficult life events. This week, the group met for a personal discussion about how acknowledging suffering helps people move forward in positive way, led by Calhoun resident fellow Margarita Mooney ’95.
Happiness Project member Calvin Harrison ’17 said this week’s meeting differed significantly from the group’s usual structure as students reflected on the life and impact of their dean, who passed away unexpectedly on Monday afternoon.
“[Mooney] left it open to the floor for anyone to talk,” he said. “We talked about purpose in life, and [how] that’s not necessarily tied to your career. It was a really good way to remember [Dean Woodard] and support each other.”
In general, students in the group meet regularly to motivate one another to keep resolutions and to write down what they are thankful for in gratitude journals.
Mooney, who is new to Yale this year, conducts sociology research by interviewing families across the country about the transformative nature of suffering. She began the Calhoun Happiness Project this fall in an effort to educate students on the sociology of positive psychology while also helping them with their daily lives.
“Dr. Mooney is good at connecting [Rubin’s] book with things that we go through day-to-day at Yale,” said Carolina Rivera ’16, a member of the group.
Mooney taught a course on a similar issue when she was a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. While her course was based more on texts than discussion, it introduced the concepts of sociology and positive psychology to students. Mooney said she hopes the new project at Yale will help students foster positive relationships with others, adding that the project is different from her past work because it involves people coming together to strive for collective happiness in their lives.
The Calhoun Happiness Project is loosely related to Mooney’s past research, which addresses the concept of suffering and how different individuals have reacted to extreme suffering in their lives.
“I started off thinking suffering is something you had to get rid of,” Mooney said. “[People] can transform it into something meaningful and something that inspires them to be better people, but they can’t get rid of it. This is part of a problem with our popular culture. They think that positive psychology means you’ll never feel bad again. There’s nothing wrong with negative emotions — the question is, what’s your response?”
Though the Calhoun Happiness Project has not worked with other student wellness groups at Yale that are spreading the beliefs of positive psychology, the group’s members said they hope to spread the message of the project to the greater student body.
Mooney said she is starting to find out about other campus organizations that spread a similar message, adding that she would like to team up with other groups to promote positive psychology even further. The idea that achievement alone is not enough to bring happiness to students is “a message that Yale students probably need to hear,” she said.
Currently, the project plans on hosting study breaks for Calhoun students, as well as a Secret Santa exchange within the college. Mooney also plans on launching a new kind of happiness project in the spring, which will be focused on applying positive psychology and positive sociology to transform communities.