In a brightly lit, wood-paneled room filled with comfortable Victorian furniture, 17 Yale undergraduates sit around a table of fresh fruit, doughnuts, and lemonade to learn how to lead a happier life. They’ve joined the Calhoun Happiness Project, the brainchild of Dr. Margarita Mooney, a Calhoun Fellow and visiting professor in the Sociology Department. The Project is focused on how to lead a more focused and happy life through what Mooney refers to as the three R’s: “Reading, resolving, and working on relationships.”
The three R’s are meant to help members navigate their way to more fulfilled and flourishing existences. Reading a chapter or two each week from Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, students come prepared to discuss its message of happiness and how it relates to their own lives. The project members have also each vowed to fulfill a few small daily tasks to improve their own lives, such as sleeping more, exercising, or keeping a daily journal of gratitude. The final R is for relationships, and every member is meant to think beyond their own personal happiness, and to try to make those around them just a bit more smiley.
At this point you may be feeling a bit averse to yet another cloying book club à la Oprah, but it’s not as saccharine as it first appears. “This happiness is not about the momentary feeling, but the life goal and purpose… a telos” says Dr. Mooney. “I’d like to introduce people to the neo-Aristotelian view of society.” Mooney is emphatic that the goal of the Project is about looking at your life and being more aware of when you’re happy and how to get to that place. To her, the Oprah Book Club is a fad; this is a lifestyle.
“People left my course last year and I think they were objectively more happy, not just more appreciative about happiness,” she explained. After teaching a sociology class on “The Happy Society” at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Dr. Mooney has come to Yale to share her academic and professional experience with Calhoun and with the wider Yale community.
The Project meets every few weeks to discuss the book, remind themselves of their happiness commitment, and update each other on their progress to fulfillment. “I enjoy the chance to get to be more happy and slow down,” says Didem Kaya, CC ’16. It’s an intimate and calm affair; Mooney has done an excellent job of creating her own Lyceum here in New Haven. Whether or not the hyper-ambition of Yalies that Mooney points out will be complimented by this philosophical venture remains to be seen. “Achievement is part of happiness, but it certainly isn’t everything,” Mooney suggests. However, for the hopeful Hounies in attendance, there is a chance that the sessions might just bring a more lasting happiness than the monthly doughnuts and berries grant them.
Mooney starts the session by asking, “How can we flourish?” With such a nebulous question, the results have yet to be determined, but if the first sessions are any testament to Mooney’s progress, Calhoun might just be a happier place come next fall.