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Tabitha Kirkland’s Happiness class, and the beneficial perspectives it provides, is the subject of a UW College of Arts & Sciences Perspectives newsletter article.

Excerpted from Perspectives



We all want to be happy. If only there were a course for that.

At the UW, there is.

Tabitha Kirkland , lecturer in the Department of Psychology , offers PSYCH 448: Happiness, which combines scientific research on happiness with activities that have been shown to have a positive impact.

“When we talk about happiness, we’re not talking about it as an emotion,” explains Kirkland, a social psychologist whose dissertation on happiness was grounded in social cognitive neuroscience. “When we’re looking at happiness in this class, we’re thinking about it more as an enduring state, beyond temporary emotion or mood. It’s more about whether one’s orientation toward the world is more positive or negative.”

Weekly lectures and discussions of scientific readings are supplemented with hands-on activities, films, and guest speakers. Offered for the first time this quarter, the course quickly filled with psychology majors. Kirkland hopes to open the class to non-majors in the future, with a limit of 50 students. “The smaller the learning environment, the deeper we can go and the more the students feel a sense of community in the class,” she says.

Senior Rayanna Acia signed up for Happiness because she was “tired of being in a constant state of negativity” and hoped the class would change her perspective. She believes the course content and assignments have had a remarkable effect. “I find myself leaving the negativity behind and becoming happier each day,” Acia says. “I don’t even remember the last time I’ve felt this happy so consistently.”

If that sounds like magic, Kirkland insists it is not. People can become happier if they put in the work, she says. Studies suggest that 50 percent of one’s potential for happiness is attributable to genetics and 10 percent is the result of external circumstances. The remaining 40 percent can be influenced by how we choose to approach situations. “The fact that we can increase our own happiness is the toughest thing for people to wrap their minds around,” says Kirkland. “While people have an individual set point for happiness, they can move from that set point with intentional practice.”

Read the entire article here .