Drawing on scientific research and his own experience battling depression, Chude Jideonwo, a Yale Greenberg World Fellow and entrepreneur, taught a master class on Friday about how to lead a happier life.
“A two hour class won’t change your life,” Jideonwo said. “But I want to use research to make you consider the possibility that you can live a life defined by joy.”
Speaking to about 50 members of the Yale community, Jideonwo described evidence-based strategies for leading a “flourishing life,” which he defined as a life with overwhelmingly good feelings and positive emotions.
Jideonwo cited statistics and newspaper articles about the prevalence of anxiety and depression around the world, calling the rise in mental health problems a global crisis.
In an interview after the class, Jideonwo said that he dealt with his depression last year by returning to his Christian faith. While he referenced spiritual practices from Christianity and Buddhism during the workshop, the joy master class did not concentrate on any particular religion. Rather, Jideonwo said the class is based on research in positive psychology and that scientific evidence can convey the same lessons to people who may not be religious.
Jideonwo has taught his joy master class several times in Nigeria, but Friday’s event was the first time he brought it to the United States.
In the class, Jideonwo identified two shortcuts to leading a flourishing life: nonattachment and love. Alluding to the Buddha’s second “noble truth” — that all suffering is caused by desire — Jideonwo said that people should avoid becoming attached to their desires since it is impossible to fulfill them all. People should come to terms with their circumstances instead of becoming frustrated or negative, he said.
Jideonwo based his second shortcut — to cultivate more loving relationships — on the results of the Harvard Grant study, a 75-year study that found a powerful correlation between warm relationships and happiness.
“Accept things that come to you and love proactively, and everything else will come naturally, like building resilience and positive emotions,” he said.
The master class included many personal anecdotes, including one about a time when Jideonwo broke his leg and practiced these principles of happiness. Instead of becoming disheartened about his injury, Jideonwo accepted the situation and chose to laugh instead, which he said helped alleviate the pain of surgery.
In addition to these shortcuts, Jideonwo said that a “hack” for generating joy is altruism. He urged audience members to spend a week performing generous acts for others, citing a 2008 study from the University of California, Berkeley that found that spending more of one’s income on others led to greater happiness.
The master class concluded with practical methods to help people feel happier on a day-to-day basis. Jideonwo suggested meditation as a way to deal with negative emotions and build one’s capacity to handle adversity.
Several attendees said they appreciated the connections Jideonwo drew to spiritual texts. Kelechi Umoga MED ’21 said he noticed many parallels between Jideonwo’s shortcuts to happiness and lessons from the Bible, such as avoiding idolatry and desire.
“For a lot of the suggestions he was giving, you could see their root’s head in biblical teachings,” Umoga said.
For Zong Xuan Tan ’18, a member of the Yale Sangha — a Buddhist group on campus — many of the lessons in the master class were already familiar to him. However, he said he liked that Jideonwo presented these spiritual lessons in a way that was accessible to a wider range of people.
Jideonwo said several attendees told him afterward that the workshop was a transformative experience for them. He added that he was overwhelmed by the turnout and positive response to the master class, as he had not expected so many people to attend.
“I was impressed by the number of people who stayed until the end,” Jideonwo said. “It’s a two hour master class at Yale before exams. To just see that it has such huge applications in a massive research institution like Yale just confirms the urgency of this [class].”
Alice Park | firstname.lastname@example.org