A shortened version of the Science of Happiness class being taught throughout the nation is being offered at both campuses in Leyden High School Dist. 212.
“My colleague at West Leyden took the free online Yale University science of well-being class, and we used that to help create an outline of what we are doing,” said Patrick Winstead, an East Leyden social studies teacher. “It’s a growing area of need to address the increase in negative well-being indicators on the rise in the United States for young people.
“Stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, self-injury, suicide are all on the rise. Interpersonal skills, empathy, emotional intelligence are all on the decline,” he said.
Students benefit from taking the class as it introduces them to scientifically based and legitimate analysis of stress and happiness. Even if they don’t agree with all of the research, students receive information to empower their self improvement and to lessen emotional vulnerability and depression. They also learn stress relief techniques and well-being strategies.
“Additionally, a class project at the end of the class asks them to commit to attempting a strategy for a period of 4-6 weeks to actually see the benefits compound over time,” said Winstead. “The students that fully commit to this learn a variety of strategies, and then experience the success of goal-setting and self improvement over time.”
Strategies include special breathing techniques, meditation, activities, as well as diagramming thoughts and emotions to become better at self-regulating.
One of the first units of the class evaluated the difference between happiness and pleasure. The course notes that pleasure is a short-term benefit linked to Dopamine release in the brain, which Winstead said is typically tied to an external or material trigger.
“Happiness is generally described as a longer term mindset and state of being tied to your individual goals and values. It isn’t so much ‘evaluated’ as it is a prompt for them to think about their life, and then use the strategies in class to create a plan that moves toward long term well-being and understanding the time, place and limits on material pleasure.”
By learning the biological and psychological causes of anxiety and how to manage anxiety they begin to understand that stress and anxiety is a physical symptom response to thoughts, emotions and feelings. They analyze the physical nature of stress and recognize it as a biological state your body experiences.
“Feeling stress isn’t a failure or malfunction as it is sometimes presented to them socially,” said Winstead. “It’s a natural biological reaction to a perceived danger or threat. It allows us to discuss solutions. Physical stress relief strategies like breathing exercises can immediately counteract the physical symptoms of stress, and then that allows us to mentally process a solution to the perceived threat.”
Winstead hopes that the class lays the groundwork for students so when they encounter challenges and the chaos of the world that’s coming, they will be better equipped to deal with it.
East Leyden High School’s attendance area includes Rosemont south of Devon Avenue.