Happiness is a choice, a top one, students declare

In writing about New Year’s resolutions, Danielle Escobal, a staff writer for The Gateway student newspaper at Notre Dame Prep in Towson, Maryland, lists “Choose to be happy because happiness is a choice” at number 3 while listing something about learning at number 4.


A laughing pre-kindergarten student (Digital Vision)

The first two resolutions concern healthy choices, and the fifth is about challenging herself. But her order for numbers 3 and 4 was remarkable in that schools forget about happiness all the time in pursuit of higher test scores, yet being “happy” is what students actually care about.

They hold happiness in such high regard, in fact, that this semester’s most popular course among undergraduates at Yale University is Psychology 157. Not only is it the most popular class this semester, but it’s also the most popular class ever at the Ivy League beacon.

The class is officially titled “Psychology and the Good Life,” but it is, according to its professor, Laurie Santos, about happiness.

The class is so popular this semester that it had to be moved from the auditorium where it was originally scheduled to the bigger concert hall. The auditorium only has seats for about 800 students, and about 1,200 had signed up.

“Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus,” The New York Times quoted the professor as saying. “With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.”

  • Yet another study links smartphone use with happiness, CNN reports.

In light of this amazing reporting, I want to reiterate my most fundamental criticism of a preliminary report recently issued by the Kirwan Commission, a government-appointed council of “experts” and “stakeholders” in education in Maryland, charged with giving the public schools, especially the funding for those schools, a make-over. It totally missed a big part of the picture in overlooking happiness, I wrote. But my voice is insignificant, compared to students’:

“In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb,” the Times quoted Alannah Maynez, a freshman taking the happiness course at Yale, as saying. “The fact that a class like this has such large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotions—both positive and negative—so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”

So far, all that has come out of the Kirwan Comission is that we need better and more diverse teachers and we need better test scores. As I pointed out, the report nowhere mentions happiness, joy, or love. And that is, at the end of the day, all anybody really cares about, once their health is taken care of.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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