What makes you happy? One thing that makes me happy is traveling and meeting people. As Psi Chi president, I have certainly enjoyed the opportunities I've had this past year to travel to the different regional conferences. Lately, happiness has been on my mind. It was initiated by one of the most interesting talks I had the chance to hear (besides all of the Psi Chi student presentations of course!) in my travels for Psi Chi. At the Western Psychological Association meeting in Phoenix, Dr. Martin Seligman talked about his recent research on happiness. His talk made me think about how Psi Chi might contribute to your happiness. Many of the interesting points he made during his talk can be found at www.edge.org/3rd_culture/seligman04/seligman_index.html.
So, you may be wondering exactly how Psi Chi can bring you happiness. Dr. Seligman talked about three areas of people's lives that he found contribute to decreased incidence of depression and to increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction with life. One area involves maximizing pleasure and positive emotions. This is what Seligman calls "the Hollywood view of happiness," or the pleasant life.
The second area, what Seligman calls eudaemonia, involves knowing your strengths, and using them to become completely absorbed in doing the things you do best because you so much enjoy doing them. Eudaemonia also has to do with pleasures such as good conversation, fascinating work, or interesting hobbies, which draw one into a state of flow. When you are in flow, time stands still and thoughts of the self are replaced with an all-consuming focus on the task at hand.
The third area has to do with "knowing what your highest strengths are and deploying those in the service of something you believe is larger than you are." Seligman says that "meaning consists in attachment to something bigger than you are. The self is not a very good site for meaning and the larger the thing that you can credibly attach yourself to, the more meaning you get out of life."
He has now tested thousands of people and concluded that the last two areas--eudaemonia and meaning--were particularly likely to be associated with individuals who reported feeling happy and satisfied with their lives. Many people tend to believe that acquiring material things will maximize their positive emotions, but in the long run, they discover other less tangible aspects of life are more important.
If you are interested in finding out more about his happiness research, you can go to Dr. Seligman's website at www.authentichappiness.org. You can even sign up to take the Authentic Happiness course over the phone or in person. If you do, one homework assignment involves making a gratitude visit to someone in your life you never properly thanked. Dr. Seligman found that gratitude is positively correlated with happiness. Or, you might be asked to find a way to volunteer your time or services to people in need. Dr. Seligman provides evidence that these kinds of activities contribute to increased happiness and meaning.
As a college student, your pursuit of a college degree might be related to one or more of these three types of happiness. We all know some people who are concerned only with the financial payoff once they finish their degree, some who pursue a degree in a field they love, and others who seek training that will allow them to serve some higher purpose such as helping other people cope with psychological problems. Did you know that 30 years ago college students reported that the most important reason to attend college was to develop a meaningful philosophy of life, and the least important reason was to train for a better-paying job--but that college students today reverse the importance of these two reasons?
So how does all this relate to you and to Psi Chi? If connecting to something greater than yourself by an activity such as volunteering is something that is associated with self-satisfaction and personal happiness, has Psi Chi got a deal for you!
If you would like to try giving of yourself as a means of personal growth, Psi Chi is a great place to start--or to take your current volunteering to a new level. Every year Psi Chi supports national service projects as well as a myriad of different service projects at the chapter level. These projects provide opportunities for Psi Chi members to give of their time and energy in an organized manner, leading to more far-reaching results than individuals could achieve working alone.
Currently, Psi Chi officially supports four different national service projects, two of which can be tailored easily to the needs of your community and the interests of your members. The Adopt-A-Shelter service project encourages Psi Chi chapters to adopt a shelter of their choice in their local community. For example, this could be a battered women's shelter, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation shelter, a homeless shelter, or a runaway teen shelter.
The second national Psi Chi service project is Habitat for Humanity. Contact your local Habitat representative (or go to www.habitat.org) to find out how you and your fellow chapter members can help build houses for low income people right in your own city or town.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is the third service project supported by Psi Chi, and it is actually international rather than national in opportunities to help others. Psi Chi officially encourages chapters to continue their support of their local Adopt-A-Shelter when they add one fundraiser per year to benefit UNICEF.
The fourth national service project supports the Archives of the History of American Psychology (AHAP). "AHAP was established in 1965 at the Univer-sity of Akron to promote research in the history of psychology by collecting, cataloguing, and preserving the historical record of psychology" (www.psichi.org/news/article_78.asp). Again, Psi Chi encourages chapters to hold one fundraising activity per year to support this organization.
To find out more about all four of these service opportunities, go to the national Psi Chi website and click on Chapters, then Service Projects. In addition to supporting these four officially-sanctioned service projects, members in chapters around the country donate their time, money, efforts, and even blood in service to others. If you would like ideas for additional projects for your chapter, just read the Sightings section published in each issue of the Eye on Psi Chi. Another good resource for ideas is the description of How to Become a Successful Psi Chi Chapter, written by officers of the chapter which won the annual Ruth Hubbard Cousins National Chapter Award. This also appears in the Eye on Psi Chi and on the www.psichi.org website.
In conclusion, it occurs to me that it is somehow fitting my first column addressed grief, while my last column addresses happiness. I wish you all increased happiness as you figure out how you can be of service to Psi Chi, and of service to others through Psi Chi.
Summer 2004 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 3, 7), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2004, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.