Happiness: A Learned Behavior - Insights from Higher Education Research

A new research published in Higher Education says that happiness is a learned behavior and it also requires practice to get perfect. In the University of Bristol, a course named Science of Happiness suggested that adopting habits like gratitude, meditating, journaling etc. play an important role in feelings of happiness and they should be continued over time for an individual to excel in them. The research was taken from the Science of Happiness course which is similar to the University of Yale's course, Psychology and the Good Life. The purpose of these courses is to see happiness and well-being through scientific lens.

The course talks about a lot of physical phenomenon, both biological and psychological, that play an important role in boosting happiness. The course also suggests that individuals should take part in the activities that seem right to them and ultimately bring them happiness. Many studies have been made that show that psychoeducational courses help individuals a lot but only for some while. It is not yet confirmed if these courses also help long term and that’s why researchers started studying whether a structured program like Science of Happiness can give individuals long term happiness.

For this study, the researchers asked the students who had taken part in the Science of Happiness course to take part in some surveys. 228 students agreed to take part in the long term survey that was done after 12 to 29 months of the course ending. The Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale helped to measure the general well being of the individuals. Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire (GAD-7) and UCLA Loneliness Scale 3-item version also helped in the survey. At first, the students in the survey said that their well-being has increased 10-15% after taking the course. About 50.06% of the students said that they use at least one practice from the Science of happiness course to maintain their well-being. Gratitude was the most used practice among others in those students.

When the researchers took a survey 29 months after the course ended, the well-being of students didn’t last that much. Many students didn’t actively participate in the practices and that’s why they couldn't maintain their well-being. This study suggests evidence-based happiness just like gym or meditation is just a start. The individual has to continue the practice to keep it long term. A senior author of the study, Bruce Hood, said that what we teach in our course is how you can be happy by helping others, doing self care, gratitude or meditation. These kinds of practices divert your attention from yourself to the people and happy moments around you.

Image: DIW-Aigen

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