Center for the Advancement of Well-Being
The College of Humanities and Social Sciences

The HAPPY Higher Education Instructor's Guide

Happy roko girls
Director, Roko Belic, and the Center's HAPPY team

By Kimberly Martin

team from the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University has written the HAPPY Higher Education Instructor’s Guide for instructors who want to bring the powerful educational components of the film, HAPPY, into the classroom. The free, resource-rich publication pairs with the educational version of HAPPY. 

You'll need to provide basic information prior to downloading the free HAPPY Higher Education Instructor's Guide

The HAPPY Higher Education Instructor’s Guide introduces students to the concepts of positive psychology, well-being, and the well-lived life. Resources are provided for digging deeper into the concepts presented in the film and for helping students to reflect on how the film relates to their own lives and to the lives of those around them. The concepts are part of a large body of knowledge that could be part of an hour of class or an entire course of study.  At the end of the guide is a section devoted to happiness and self-renewal that includes resources, practices, and reflective questions to help explore these topics.

“The HAPPY documentary is a film replete with themes related to well-being and what it means to live a meaningful life. This college-level curriculum guidebook provides tools and applications for instructors and facilitators designed to faciliate students' learning on various dimensions of well-being,” said Dr. Nance Lucas, executive director of the Center.

HAPPY is an award-winning, feature-length documentary that takes us on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real life stories of people from around the world and powerful interviews with the leading scientists in happiness research, HAPPY brings to life the science and application of the film’s themes. Roko Belic is the director whose debut, Genghis Blues (1999), won the Sundance Audience Award and was nominated for an Academy Award® for best documentary feature.

In November 2011, the Center hosted Roko Belic at Mason for multiple screenings of HAPPY followed by question and answer sessions. During Roko’s visit, a new partnership was formed! Since then, CCT has been working together with Roko and HAPPY on the common mission to educate others and promote an understanding and cultivation of the most meaningful aspects of humanity: happiness, creativity, purpose in life, resilience, and healthy relationships.

“We are grateful to the Center for developing the HAPPY Higher Education Instructor’s Guide and helping us continue the work of educating and helping people to create better lives,” said Roko Belic, Academy-award nominated director of HAPPY.

For HAPPY, Roko teamed up with Hollywood heavyweight executive producer, Tom Shadyac. Tom Shadyac is one of the most prolific and successful writer/director/producer in Hollywood, responsible for huge hits such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, Bruce AlmightyPatch Adams, Accepted and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. In 2007, Shadyac suffered a bicycle accident that left him incapacitated, nearly for good.  He subsequently gave away his excess fortune, reoriented and simplified his life, and sold his Los Angeles mansion. His work shifted to exploring his personal journey, the nature of humanity, the world's ever-growing addiction to materialism, and to our most valued emotions. Shadyac, himself dissatisfied with his luxurious Beverly Hills lifestyle, asked Belic to make a documentary investigation into the origins of human happiness‐‐and why the U.S. ranks so low. This simple inquiry led to a global exploration of happiness research resulting in HAPPY. The Center will also be hosting Tom Shadyac for a future screening and question and answer session of I AM, a film where he steps in front of the camera to recount what happened to him after his cycling accident. He shares how he emerged with a new sense of purpose, determined to share his own awakening to his prior life of excess and greed, and to investigate how he as an individual, and we as a race, could improve the way we live and walk in the world.

Positive psychology emerged as a division in the American Psychological Association in 1999 to address the science of positive emotions and positive relationships. Dr. Martin Seligman was president of the American Psychological Association (APA) when the division of positive psychology was created. Seligman describes the goal of positive psychology as catalyzing a change from a preoccupation with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life. The field of psychology’s preoccupation with dysfunction produced approximately 40,000 labels identifying what is wrong with people and only 4,000 labels addressing what is right about individuals. In an examination of 100 years of literature published in psychology, there are 8,000 articles on anger, 58,000 on anxiety, 71,000 on depression and only 850 articles on joy, 3,000 on happiness, and 5,700 on life satisfaction (The Gallup Organization, 2010). Given the historical trends in mental health, the World Wide Health Organization predicts that depression will be the second leading cause of death, affecting 30% of the world’s population by the year 2020.

Positive psychology highlights what is right with people, organizations, and communities and attempts to reverse the direction from languishing states toward human flourishing, from being disengaged to being engaged. The positive psychology field is interdisciplinary in nature and influenced by various schools of thought such as psychology, neuroscience, neuropsychology, economics, sociology, and leadership studies to name a few. The growing evidence from the positive psychology field perpetuates hope that scientists will reverse the trend from the historical focus of psychological dysfunction to an emphasis on psychological wellbeing.  HAPPY contributes to this goal through examples of resilience, happiness, compassion, gratitude, and what it means to live the good life.

Interviews in HAPPY with experts in the field of positive psychology including Ed Diener, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Richard Davidson, Daniel Gilbert, Nic Marks, Gregory Berns, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and others contribute major insights. By studying happiness and well-being and living more purpose-filled, connected, positive lives, instructors and students will find that whatever they do becomes more meaningful and intentional. When one acts from a full, rich place, the work they do and the relationships they have also become fuller and richer.

The Center has set a goal of creating a well-being campus at George Mason University for all of the students, faculty, and staff that will not only make the campus a happier and healthier place but also the surrounding community and the communities that future graduates enter. This transformation is taking place by educating the Mason community and the surrounding community about the concepts and practices of positive psychology, well-being, and the well-lived life.  The Center is an interdisciplinary teaching and research center whose mission is to understand the nature and effects of individual and group consciousness and its role in transformative learning and social change. A central premise of the Center is that human consciousness is a key variable in the process of transformative learning for individuals, which in turn can lead to transformational change on individual, organizational, and societal levels. The Center’s approach incorporates traditions and practices with modern scientific methods for full exploration of the vast worlds of consciousness and transformation including well-being, positive psychology, leadership, and creativity.

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