The Calhoun Happiness Project at Yale

I originally published this post on the Black, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos on October 10, 2013.

yale_logo“How can Yale undergraduates learn and apply principles from positive psychology and positive sociology? More than 20 students jointed the Calhoun Happiness Project which I started in one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, Calhoun College. The group gained so much interest so fast that the Yale Herald published an article raving about the group, calling it a “Lyceum here in New Haven.”

I read the amazing resources Gretchen Rubin has posted on her blog about happiness, and defined the goals of the Calhoun Happiness Project as having 3 components: Reading, Resolutions, and Relationships.

HappinessProject_bookcover1) Reading Rubin’s book The Happiness Project;

2) Making Resolutions to improve your happiness during our 4 fall semester meetings;

3) Building Relationships with others by discussing how you are doing in your happiness project and learning about others’ journeys to authentic well-being.

I provide snacks for the meetings and offer both intellectual and personal reflections on what authentic well-being is and what we can do to improve it. Students created a Calhoun Happiness Project Facebook group where we can share our progress on our resolutions and encourage each other. I hope to teach a semester-long class on “The Happy Society” here at Yale, and students in The Calhoun Happiness Project are already giving me some ideas about where to focus that class.We will finish off the semester by watching a movie on happiness in the Calhoun common areas and invite other Yalies to come join us and reflect on what we learned this semester….”

To read the full post, visit the Black White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos.

Goodbye, Robert Bellah

I originally published this post on July 31, 2013, on the Black, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos. Click here to read that post.

Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah once wrote: “Because good social science is always morally serious, we can transpose Weber’s saying that only a mature man can have the calling for politics into the statement that only a mature person can have the calling for sociology. Moral vacuity creates cognitively trivial work.” (The Robert Bellah Reader, p. 400)

Religion-in-Human-Evolution_coverOne of the greatest American sociologists, Robert Bellah has passed away in these finals days of July. I got the email from my graduate school mentor Robert Wuthnow of Princeton while I sat in a coffee shop at Yale with Phil Gorski preparing for this morning’s philosophy of social science seminar. We were both shocked. The email only said his death was caused by unexpected complications from a relatively minor surgery.

HabitsoftheHeart_coverI wrote about my conversations with Bellah previously on Black, White and Gray, and I’m immensely glad I got to meet a living legend just months before he passed away. At that meeting, Bellah spent as much time talking about how much he loved his recently deceased wife of more than 60 years as he did telling me about his latest book, Religion in Human Evolution, and we chatted about his new interest Catholic social teaching. Aristotle said that often we can’t tell if a person’s life has been flourishing until after they have died. May Bellah’s flourishing intellectual legacy and his example passion for people, ideas and the truth live on long after his death.

Flow: Let’s Get Serious about Leisure

I originally published this blog post on June 5, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos.  Click here to read the full post.

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi

“Do you take your leisure seriously? If not, you aren’t going to get flow which I described last week. Contrary to popular belief, flow is not the easy-peasy feeling you get when plopping down on the couch to watch an old movie or the NBA Finals. Flow also is not the exclusive property of musical or spiritual virtuosos who seem to just forget the world around them as they wrap themselves in beauty or prayer.  Flow happens when your work or leisure expand your consciousness, producing and optimal psychological state fundamental to happiness.

Why do we need to be serious about flow? Positive psychologist Martin Seligman convinced me that if you don’t get flow most days, you probably will never be happy. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, states that if you know how to flow, you can expect to be happy practically no matter what, including during times of  serious adversity…”

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Flow: Order in Consciousness

I originally published this blog post on May 29, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos.  Click here to read the full post.

Flow_Cover“Did you know that you can actually increase your ability to enjoy the things in life that produce the greatest satisfaction? When I read Martin Seligman’s PERMA concept of human flourishing (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement) I simply presumed that Type-A, achievement oriented people like me are too busy doing our work to get into flow (another word for engagement). “Flow must be what creative types, like artists or actors, experience,” I naively thought.

To learn more about flow, I recently perused one of the books from the reading list I developed for my positive sociology class, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Czikszentmihaly.  To my delight, I learned from Czikszentmihaly that the reason I can dedicate so many hours of solitary  reading and writing is because learning new things is the primary way I experience flow.

What exactly is flow? According to  Czikszentmihaly, flow is “joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life” (Flow, p. xi). How do we achieve flow? By fighting against psychic entropy (or chaos in our thoughts) by striving for order in our consciouness. When we have order in consciousness, “the information that keeps coming into awareness is congruent with goals, psychic energy flows effortlessly” (Flow, p. 39). ..”

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“No More Choices, Please!”

I originally published this blog post on May 1, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos.  Click here to read the full post.

Barry Schwartz

Barry Schwartz

“Have you ever felt overwhelmed at the number of choices to buy a salad dressing at the grocery store? Have you ever failed to choose a health care or retirement option just because, well, there were so many options that you couldn’t pick one? Have you ever searched and searched for the perfect pair of shoes, the best dress for a special event, or a new car, and then made a choice but still felt like maybe you could have found something even better?

If you answered “yes’ to any of these questions, then you are suffering from what Swarthmore psychology professor Barry Schwartz calls “The Paradox of Choice.” As he recounts in this TED lecture, Schwartz suffered so much agony when buying a pair of jeans that he decided to write a whole book explaining how Americans mistakenly think that more choices means more freedom and that more freedom means more well-being…”

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Is Tocqueville Still Relevant?

I originally published this blog post on March 20, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos.  Click here to read the full post.

Tocqueville's Democracy in America

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

“It is with a bit of trepidation that I begin discussing with my students in positive sociology this week Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Is a work written in the 1830s relevant nearly 200 years later? When I assign readings from 1985 my students say, “Gee, this is old and out of context,” so how will they respond to a book from 1835? Will they dismiss Tocqueville’s insights or writing style as irrelevant to their everyday concerns and the concerns of our nation? As the book’s title suggests, Tocqueville ventured to the U.S. from France to find out: what makes American democracy work?

The 600-page volume he produced is quite likely still the best assessment of American culture that has ever been written. In this masterpiece that has now become a foundational piece for cultural literacy, Tocqueville writes as a foreigner (he was a Frenchman) and to foreigners (his book was originally published in French for a French audience) about what cultural and social forms distinctly American, and how those distinct American social and cultural traits uphold the great American experiment in democracy…”

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Conversations with Robert Bellah

I originally published this blog post on March 13, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos.  Click here to read the full post.

Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah

“Sitting in his office perched above the hills in Berkeley, California, yesterday I got to meet one of the legends of sociology: Robert Bellah. Among other accomplishments, Bellah’s co-authored book Habits of the Heart from 1985 has sold half a million copies, his essay Civil Religion in America is widely discussed and cited, and his very recent magnum opus Religion in Human Evolution has caused quite a buzz in the academic world. (See the lively discussion of it on the Immanent Frame)…

Bellah sometimes feels that the popularity of his essay, “Civil Religion in America,” takes attention away from his other important works, even calling that article “that darned piece on civil religion!” However, I explained I assign Bellah’s Civil Religion essay and show students John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Presidential Inaugural Address that Bellah analyzes in “that darned piece!” Although Kennedy does mention “Almighty God” or Bible verses about 5 times in that speech, he refers to the nation as having a sacred mission at least 25 times. As Bellah so aptly describes and Kennedy’s speech perfectly illustrates, our nationality is not just something that gives us rights and responsibilities, our nationality is a moral, sacred belonging. Presidents before and after Kennedy rarely proselytize their particular religion, but they all describe the nation as sacred. Simply showing students that group belonging (like nationality) is not always a matter of personal choice  and that those group belongings have powerful moral narratives opens their eyes to how profoundly social human beings are and how human action has a moral dimension…”

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Positive Sociology in the Classroom

I originally published this blog post on February 20, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos. Click here to read the full post.

Job Crafting Exercise

Job Crafting Exercise

“Reflective Best Student Self and Reflective Best Classroom Exercise, written by Margarita Mooney

My recent visit with Jane Dutton of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship inspired me to adapt some of their practical exercises for building leadership and thriving workplaces to my own classroom. Dutton and colleagues have created two tools, the Job Crafting Exercise, a tool designed to make people’s jobs more engaging and fulfilling, and the Reflected Best Self Exercise, which helps people identify their character strengths and help build on their unique strengths and talents. Based on those tools, I created my own tool, which I called  the Reflective Best Student Self and Reflective Best Classroom Exercise. Here it is! Reflected Best Self Exercise

Objective: One of the principles of positive psychology and positive sociology is that we can identify our character strengths, build strong relationships, and foster enabling social environments to be our best self and to be able to give to others. In this exercise, we will reflect on what about ourselves and our classroom has enabled us to get the most out of this learning experience. Although your answers will be anonymous, your fellow students and I will read them so we can further reflect on our best selves and our best classroom environment.”

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My Happiness Project

I originally published this blog post on February 6, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos. Click here to read the full post.

HappinessProject_bookcover“When I first started read Gretchen Rubin’s best-selling book, The Happiness Project, I thought, “Wow, she does a great job of summarizing tons on research on positive psychology in a way that is accessible and engaging. But, I mean, her life is so bourgeois! She has a happy marriage already, two lovely kids, and she lives comfortably in NYC. How applicable is her happiness project to my life or my students’ lives?”

Since I’m teaching some texts from positive psychology this semester, I asked my students to read Rubin’s book and to follow her lead and do their own happiness project. To set a good example, I started my own happiness project.  My dubiousness about Rubin faded as I realized two things. First, my own life often sounds (or is) just as bourgeois as Rubin’s. Second, her explanation of research in positive psychology and her practical tips for being happier helped me personally more than I if I had just read her book but not practiced anything new…”

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Starting Points for Positive Sociology

On January 9, 2012, I posted this blog on the Black, White and Gray blog, hosted by Patheos. Click here to read the full post.

Mooney&SeligmanEver since I met Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, at his home near Philadelphia last fall to discuss what movement for positive sociology might look like, I’ve been pondering:

What unique opportunities exist to build a new positive sociology movement focusing on human flourishing and the common good? How can positive sociology build on the successes and shortcomings of positive psychology? What are the next steps in launching in a positive sociology movement?

To delve into these questions, in November of 2012, I convened a group of eight sociologists (and one psychologist) to meet with Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center.”

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