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Project Seeks to Make Harvard Students Happier

By Kathleen G. Barrow, Contributing Writer

UPDATED: April 2, 2016, at 11:20 p.m.

For the past seven weeks, a project has presented 300 Harvard students with a different kind of challenge: to be happy.

The Happiness Challenge is an eight-week event that encourages participants to make small changes to their daily routines in an effort to bring more happiness to campus through better mental and physical health practices.

The Happiness Challenge sends out a weekly email with a new challenge for the week, such as goal setting, time management, and exercising. A student group called the Harvard Happiness Project hosts the challenge, which is part of a larger, multi-campus initiative.

“Instead of rushing to class or a different building, slow down and observe your surroundings,” one of the challenges asks.

Participants can log their activities on the Happiness Challenge website for the chance to win weekly prizes ranging from gift cards to local restaurants and concert tickets.

“The challenges are meant to be simple and hopefully very accessible for students to get involved with,”co-director of the project Julia L. Versel ’17 said.

Alan Castro ’18, a Happiness Challenge participant and winner of last week’s prize, said he has benefited by making a schedule for the day and sticking to it to fit in time for work and the gym.

“It’s just a way to mold your life into who you want to become through changing small habits. I think the Happiness Challenge fills a gap that is not currently served by the courses that you can take,” Castro said. “I think we all want to change who we are, that’s why we’re in college.”

Leslie R. Rith-Najarian’s ’12 began the student group “The Happiness Project” in 2010, and began developing the Happiness Challenge in 2012. The initiative has since evolved into a larger organization which has spread to other campuses.

This April, theproject is partnering with the Harvard Health Advocacy Program to host a culminating event for the challenge, “Happy Break,” a chance for students to relax with friends, music, food, and crafts.

Both organizations seek to better mental health on Harvard’s campus by centering the conversation on happiness instead of focusing on helping students react to negative emotions.

“I think by now just the word itself—mental health—has so much baggage,” said Co-President of the Health Advocacy Program Gita Bhattacharya ’16. “At least at this moment it’s not worth it to try to re-appropriate that word but instead to focus on something that’s inherently positive which everyone can achieve… and that is happiness.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

CORRECTIONS: April 2, 2016

A previous version of this article indicated that around 800 Harvard students partook in the Happiness Challenge. In fact, 300 did. This article also incorrectly referred to the the Happiness Challenge—an initiative based at several universities—as the Happiness Project—a Harvard student group—on several references. The article also indicated Leslie R. Rith-Najarian ’12 created the Happiness Project as part of her senior thesis. In fact, she developed the group independent of her coursework.

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