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How Happiness Thinks

How Happiness Thinks

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COURSE RATIONALE

For many years, the most popular undergraduate class at Harvard University was Intro to Economics. Students likely
assumed that this class would teach them financial literacy and help them amass wealth, so there is little surprise that
they signed up in droves. But in 2006, a different course superseded the science of money. Tal Ben-Shahar, an Israeliborn psychologist, taught Positive Psychology, a course that offered psychological insights into daily joy and life fulfillment. More than 800 students attended, it becoming the most popular course ever taught at the university. It was so popular that students’ parents and a handful of grandparents started showing up as well. The major media outlets reported this phenomenon, raising the question, why the thirst and draw to this topic? Clearly, the perennial thirst to study and learn about human happiness is today as strong as ever.

The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute is proud to offer an all-new six-week course titled How Happiness Thinks.

Throughout this course, we will be addressing the following questions:

1. What makes happy people different from unhappy people?
2. To what degree do our circumstances (family, education, career, etc.) matter for our overall happiness?
3. What are some of the challenges to living a joyous life?
4. Can a person be happy despite going through difficulty?
5. Does G‑d care whether people are happy?
6. What are some of the benefits of living life happily?
7. Is Judaism more concerned with human ethics or human happiness?

Jewish wisdom and mysticism addressed these questions many centuries ago, and yet, its insights are just as relevant today. So while each lesson of this course draws upon the latest research in the rapid-growing field of positive psychology, it also breathes fresh life into the discussion by unveiling the unique Jewish approach to achieving more happiness. 

COURSE OUTLINE


WEEK 1: THE HAPPY YOU
If happiness comes from within, then a positive self-concept is essential to human happiness.

What is a negative self-image? Where does it stem from? In what ways might it express itself? How does it hamper human happiness?

What is an arrogant self-image? Are self-centered people happy with themselves?

What is humility? How can people become more humble? Is humility just the right path or is it also the happy path? Is
humility similar to a negative self-image?

This lesson discusses different ways of thinking about ourselves, in the hope of finding a joyous self-concept.
 

WEEK 2: JOY DESPITE LIFE’S STATIC
Life has its hassles and hardships and this static impedes happiness. Building patience would help us cope better with these hardships, but what is patience and how does one nurture this virtue?

A major component of our stress is the fact that we need to tend to the many things going on in life. Without cutting
anything out, how can we ease our mental load?

How can we eliminate our worries about the future? Do we have control over our minds? Why does it sometimes seem that we don’t? Should we ignore our worries, or talk about them? Is there a way to build optimism and trust about the future?


WEEK 3: SAVORING THE GOOD AND OVERCOMING ANGER
We live in an era in which people have so much, yet too many remain unhappy.

Is it possible for the abundance of today to contribute to happiness? Is it possible to find joy in material things? Why do people strive for more?

Certain negative experiences anger us. Is venting our anger good for our happiness? If not, how might we overcome it?

WEEK 4: UNHAPPY TIMES
While Judaism endorses perennial happiness, there seems to be an exception: mourning the death of a loved one.
Is happiness appropriate at all after the loss of a loved one?

Does time play a role here? Does belief in a just G‑d mean that one is always happy? How can we avoid enduring and crippling unhappiness in the face of a tragedy?

The Jewish way in death and mourning can teach us a lot about whether, why, and to what degree happiness is relevant in the presence of sorrow, and what actions can be helpful to bring the mourner back to emotional equilibrium.


WEEK 5: HUMAN IMPERFECTION
If we were perfect, happiness would come much easier. But we are not.

How does happiness think in the context of committing a moral wrong? What about our character flaws, negative
thoughts, broken resolutions, etc.? Are these supposed to undermine our happiness? If not, how is that different from
indifference?


WEEK 6: TOWARD A MEANINGFUL LIFE
Research has shown that meaning, religion, and spirituality indicate higher happiness levels.

Why might meaning add joy to life? Why, and in what context, might religion add joy to life?

While there are multiple important answers to these questions, one element is that embracing Judaism means we
uncover a tremendous amount of good that otherwise would be irrelevant. How can we learn to appreciate this goodness?

Is it proper to use religion as a means for happiness? Is life really about our happiness? Is happiness a religious issue?

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