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Story and photos by Stephen Wilson

Question: What is happier than an eight-year-old the day after Halloween?

Answer: Not much.

But third-graders visited the College for a treat as they toured, ate pizza, and learned about happiness from some eager students in a First-Year Seminar entitled Understanding Happiness.

Jamila Bookwala, dean of academic initiatives and professor of psychology, greeted the young pupils before turning things over to her class. All semester the students have explored happiness from an interdisciplinary perspective, discussing how researchers from different fields define and measure it as well as how people and cultures experience it.

Translating ideas from psychology, neuroscience, economics, and public policy so elementary school children can comprehend them is no easy feat.

But the college students dove in, dividing their young charges into four groups. Each group rotated from corner to corner to learn a new idea that could improve the happiness they feel and the happiness they share.

“In our FYS, the students have been reading, writing, and discussing various scholarly works on happiness and well-being,” says Bookwala. “Teaching our third-grader guests about how they can build, share, and amplify their happiness was an opportunity for Lafayette students to teach the children about a topic we have covered quite extensively in the course: that we can learn to enhance our happiness, and the sooner we learn this, the better we can be at it.

Corner 1: Optimism
Quintin, Meghan, Hannah, Sophia

The little can-do blue tang, Dory, is a great example of an aquatic optimist. She is resilient in the face of setbacks. After defining optimism and resiliency, the students played jenga, pulling tiles that were colored red or green. Red tiles brought questions to answer about resiliency, like how can you think positively when your team loses a game, while green tiles brought optimism questions, like what are you lucky to have.

Corner 2: Compliments
Becca, Ben, Hope, Julia
Saying nice things sends our happiness on an upward spiral. So students wrote their names on a placard, and their classmates rotated from seat to seat writing positive messages that could brighten their days, like “You are nice” or “You are funny.” On down days, these placards could be a real pick-me-up.

Corner 3: Strengths
Jimmy, Rachel, Kaitlyn, Fiona

Our strengths, when shared, magnify happiness. So the piano player who loves to play only loves it more when shared with others who praise and appreciate it. Students wrote notes about their signature strengths, be it dancing, cheerleading, playing football, reading, singing, or running. They then talked about how that gift can bring joy to others.

Corner 4: Gratitude
Reid, Grace, Carly, Laura

Thanking others for all that they do for us is important to feeling happy and sharing happiness. Students thanked their Paxinosa Elementary teacher, Melissa Walsh, by coloring a big thank-you poster and jotting down one thing she does that makes them grateful.

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