Group Aims for HAPPIness

Don’t worry that popular positive psychology lecturer Tal D. Ben-Shahar ’96 will be on leave next year—Harvard will still have HAPPI.

The Harvard Applied Positive Psychology Initiative (HAPPI), a student group recently launched by Samuel E. Siner ’09, has been met with eager response from the student body, with 66 students replying within a week to e-mails sent out over house lists describing the group. Siner, who took both Psychology 1504, “Positive Psychology” and Psychology 1508, “The Psychology of Leadership,” with Ben-Shahar this semester, said he was motivated to start the group by his experience in the courses.

“We hope to integrate the effects of Positive Psychology into the campus itself and increase student satisfaction,” Siner wrote in the e-mail.

According to the e-mail, the group will “provide an integrated resource on campus for the cultivation of well-being and the exploration of personal growth and meaning in students’ lives, through the research-based methods of Positive Psychology.”

“With an initiative like this, we can really help people,” said Jessica Glazer, who is the head teaching fellow for Positive Psychology.

Although the group has not yet been approved by the College, Siner has already formed an executive board of twelve for the organization, with three vice presidents and four committees.

The group will host a variety of activities including producing a newsletter, organizing seminars on positive psychology, and “healthy, positive activities where people get to know each other and have fun” such as pajama parties, according to Siner.

The enthusiastic response to the group is building off of the popularity of Ben-Shahar’s popular Positive Psychology class, which drew 842 students this semester, the most of any College course. Siner said that Ben-Shahar encouraged him to start the group.

Even though the course will not be taught next year, Siner said the group will continue to attract students.

“It will appeal to a wide base of people still. Harvard students being overstressed and depressed won’t change because the course doesn’t exist,” Siner said. Many of the students who have expressed interest in the group have not taken Positive Psychology, according to Siner.

Professor of Psychology Ellen J. Langer, one of the group’s faculty advisers, said she thinks that the group will fill a void on campus. “It’s the sort of thing that almost anything would be better than the nothing that now exists,” she said.