The Happiness Challenge, an eight-week series of activities promoting mindfulness and healthy behavior, began at Yale on Monday.
Developed by Leslie Rith-Najarian, who graduated from Harvard in 2012, the challenge was originally run at Harvard but first came to Yale two years ago. The challenge will be eight weeks long, with each week dedicated to a particular task, said Wendy Sun ’18, an organizer of the Happiness Challenge. According to the Yale Happiness Challenge website, challenges include “De-Stress,” “Physical Exercise” and “Life Troubleshooting.” With each emailed challenge will come tips to incorporate the practice into daily life, Sun said. According to Sun, over 600 Yale students have signed up for the challenge, and sign-ups will remain open throughout its eight-week course.
“The challenge is a campus-based initiative to foster habits that have been scientifically proven to promote happiness,” said Sun, who is also co-president of healthyU, an undergraduate group dedicated to promoting health and wellness on campus.
Part of each activity involves having participants fill out a form regarding their success with each challenge at the end of the week. As an incentive, Sun said, participants who have filled out the form will be entered into raffles for prizes, like this week’s $50 gift card to Claire’s.
Alyssa Chen ’18, a co-coordinator of the challenge, said the coordinators aimed for the project to reach as many people as possible and, to that end, have organized community engagement events for Yale’s campus. Although the details have yet to be set, Chen said events would include a meditation tutorial event, a beginners’ calligraphy class and an end-of-challenge food study break.
Ivy Ren ’18, co-president of healthyU, noted that promotion of the challenge has so far been successful, and the organizers’ expectations for involvement have been exceeded.
Rith-Najarian, currently a graduate student at UCLA, said her first inspiration to create a challenge-style health and wellness project came during her undergraduate days when one of her friends decided to try veganism for a month, but did not want to do it alone, and asked if anyone else wanted to try it.
“That’s the thing about being in these intense college environments, is that you do something because you want it to be a challenge,” she said. She noted, however, a distinction between the competitive academic atmospheres of colleges like Harvard and Yale, and the idea behind this challenge: stimulating oneself to live more healthfully.
Rith-Najarian said she often noticed college students prioritizing work over sleep, but college is a time when young adults are independent and are forming habits they will retain throughout their lives, so instead of seeing stress as a metric for success, students should focus on living well and doing things that make them happy.
Sun noted that a recent post on Overheard at Yale from Feb. 11 affirmed the lack prioritization Yale students place on their well-being. “I’m thriving in all areas of my life except for my mental and physical health,” read the post, which received 603 Facebook likes.
“I think that was a red flag, that so many people found that intriguing or so many people identified with that,” Sun said. “I think without physical and mental health, what’s really the point of having all this success?”
According to Rith-Najarian, the Happiness Challenge has a waitlist of over 30 schools who want to bring the project to their campus, and six schools, including Yale, were chosen by application this year to implement the challenge.