Student Groups Promote A Focus on Happiness

Keren E. Rohe

Molly, a bulldog belonging to one of Currier House's resident tutors, plays with students during Wednesday's Happiness Awareness Day celebrations in front of the Science Center.

When Brooke R. Lee ’13 flew back home to Provo, Utah, for 31 days during winter break in her freshman year, she said she went on a total of 47 dates. Lee said her goal was not necessarily to meet a guy, but just to have fun in a low-pressure setting and forget about the stressful time she had during her freshman fall.

“I felt squished like a little bug at Harvard,” Lee said, adding that she was not aware of the numerous support groups on campus.

In order to promote the various well-being-focused resources on campus this year—especially to the new freshmen—students and staff from different organizations hosted the first ever Happiness Awareness Day, which took place yesterday in front of the Science Center.

Upbeat music blasted from a boom box, several booths were set up with giveaways, and students made silly putty, enjoyed free massages, and flung balled-up T-shirts from a giant slingshot aimed at a frowning face during the event.

Leslie R. Rith-Najarian ’12, one of the main coordinators of Happiness Awareness Day, said that a typical conversational starter among Harvard students is a bit different from the norm.

“Instead of starting a conversation about the weather, we talk about the hours of sleep we got, upcoming exams, and how stressed we are,” Rith-Najarian said. “But the go-to topic should be about what people did to be happy and things they are excited about.”

Though people often believe exam period to be the most stressful time of the year, Rith-Najarian said she believes shopping week is equally as hectic. She hopes to organize a Happiness Awareness Day every semester, she added.

The rain may have discouraged some people from stopping by, but Lee, who heard about the event from her House email list, said she decided to take a few minutes out of her busy schedule to check out the event.

Lee, who grew up in a town nicknamed “Happy Valley,” said the combination of culture shock, the weather, and schoolwork was very stressful. While she has a large family and supportive church community at home, Lee said she often felt alone at Harvard.

“Harvard itself is depressing and sad,” she said. “I am especially intimidated by the professors, and the questions I ask make me feel dumb.”

As she begins her junior year, Lee said she is much happier now. After talking with her friends and tutors, Lee said she even decided to change her concentration from the sciences to the humanities a couple days ago.

“One thing I do to make myself happier,” Lee said, “is to put on more bright-colored clothes.”

The organizations that participated in the Happiness Awareness Day included Art of Living, the Bureau of Study Counsel, the Center for Wellness, the College Events Board, the Happiness Project, StressBusters, and Student Mental Health Liaisons.

The Bureau of Study Counsel, a resource center for students’ academic and personal development, provides many different services, including counseling, peer tutoring, and workshops.

“It’s easier to live when you are feeling happy,” said Catherine M. Lehar, staff assistant at the Bureau of Study Counsel.

Another group, Student Mental Health Liaisons, collaborates with the wellness proctors and tutors to promote a supportive student community at Harvard and direct students to mental health resources available on campus.

“Mental health doesn’t have to be a scary label,” said Anne G. Douglas ’12, one of Adams House representatives. “There are so many resources at Harvard that it would be a shame if people didn’t take advantage of it.”

Vidur Chopra, a volunteer for Art of Living and a student at the Education School, said the group provides guided meditation and yoga classes for free.

“It’s important to leave behind the chaos of school and find your inner sanctum,” he said.

—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at janeseo@college.harvard.edu.

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