During the first real week (technically it was the second week, but syllabus week doesn’t count in this blog post) of our Science of Happiness course we were introduced to the topic of mental health so were assigned to read a scientific journal about the stigmas and misconceptions about mental illness and mental well-being; the article explained the differences between the absence of mental illness and the existence of mental health/well-being. Corey Keyes of Emory University went on the emphasize (more than enough times I might add) that the absence of mental illness does not indicate the presence of mental health; this statement conveys the idea that somebody can be living their day to day life with one or more mental illnesses and still have a fairly flourishing mental health and well-being, just as somebody without any present mental illnesses can be languishing as they live their lives. Our exercise for that week required us to take Keyes’ model of complete mental and record the results for ourselves and I thought it was quite enlightening. I was slightly surprised that the results of my survey suggested that I have a flourishing mental health, but I now know that whatever I have been doing is keeping me on the right path to well-being.
The second week of class focused on genetic factors that influence our behavior, which in turn, influence our quality of life. Our weekly reading authored by Dr. Danielle Dick, Dr. Amy Adkins, and Dr. Sally I-Chun Kuo discussed their twin studies which found that about 50 percent of our overall happiness is determined by genetic factors while 40 percent is influenced by intentional activity and 10 percent is influenced by context or environment; I wasn’t particularly surprised by these results since I had learned about this topic last year in AP Psychology. For our weekly exercise, we drew family trees to reinforce our understanding of how specific characteristics are often predetermined by your family’s phenotypes. Although I chose a very basic, physical characteristic (brown hair) to map out in my family tree, it still helped me understand that something very common in my family has a very good chance of determining my own features and characteristics, whether they be physical or mental; it is also up to me to choose how I play the cards I’m dealt to live a flourishing life. The activities of this particular week relate to Keyes’ mental health scale because it provides context and explanations for why somebody may be flourishing or languishing.
Our third week of instruction introduced the concept of positive psychology; the beginning of the week was centered around the fundamentals of forgiveness. Dr. Everett Worthington spoke to us on Monday morning about the power of forgiveness and strength it sometimes requires—his article that was assigned as our weekly reading breaks down to the steps to forgiveness more in depth. The rest of the week focused on explaining what positive psychology is and strives to do. Our second reading of the week summarized how positive psychology has evolved into a field of psychology that reinforces positive aspects of people instead of focusing on diminishing negative aspects. We took the PERMA Authentic Happiness survey provided by the University of Pennsylvania as our weekly exercise which breaks down one’s overall happiness into five main categories (I will also share my scores in each category for the sake of the blog): Positive emotion (7.33), Engagement (5.33), Relationships (5.67), Meaning (6.67), and Accomplishment (7). I was not surprised that my second lowest was relationships because I do consider myself more of an introvert, however, I was surprised by my lowest being engagement. I do not think this week’s activities relate to the previous weeks very much, but they do relate to the following weeks because it provides a foundation that will be built upon in the coming weeks.
The week dedicated to discovering our strongest and weakest character traits was my favorite week of Science of Happiness thus far. By taking the VIA Character Institute survey, I was able to acquire a list of all of my twenty-four character traits ranked from strongest to weakest. My top three strongest characteristics ranked from first to third were humor, love, and perspective, while my three weakest characteristics ranked from 22nd to 24th were forgiveness (I guess the previous week didn’t change my mindset too much), social intelligence (probably why I hated every second of having to discuss my character traits with people I didn’t know), and spirituality. Now I will be able to harvest my strengths on a more regular basis to help ensure that I continue to have a flourishing life, and continue to push myself to make my weaker characteristics stronger.