Campus News

April 5, 2010

How to be happy

Capstone of major research project is Dalai Lama event

By Kim Urquhart

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) is studying this iconic phrase from the Declaration of Independence as part of an interdisciplinary research project on “The Pursuit of Happiness.” The five-year project will culminate with an “Interfaith Summit on Happiness” led by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in the fall.

As the project enters its final year, a series of public forums will draw the Emory community into vibrant, interdisciplinary conversation with the CSLR senior fellows studying the pursuit of happiness.

“We want to build bridges of knowledge of across these many specialists who are exploring happiness, and to build channels of information to make all of this specialized lore practical and accessible to you,” said CLSR Director John Witte at the first event on March 31.

Designed for Emory Law students and alumni, “Prevail in the Pursuit of Happiness” featured Corey Keyes, associate professor of sociology, and W. Edward Craighead, J. Rex Fuqua Chair in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Child and Adolescent Mood Program, who are CSLR senior fellows.

Drawing from a “Happiness Survey” that participants were asked to complete before the event and from their respective realms of research, Craighead and Keyes helped the Emory Law audience understand their risk for unhappiness and personal level of happiness, and offered guidance on how to change cognitive styles and to flourish despite hardships presented in life.

Data suggests that lawyers have almost twice the rate of mood disorders and anxiety than other professionals, Craighead noted. He suspects that in law students, this is largely driven by high rates of dysfunctional perfectionism.

“Cognitions at all levels — automatic thoughts, cognitive processes, underlying beliefs — comprise our thought processes and these affect how we feel and function behaviorally,” said Craighead, who recommended using the cognitive model to “cope with depressive or anxious states and also move yourself in a more positive direction.”

Some might call that positive direction “flourishing.” Keyes, an expert in the emerging field of positive psychology, coined the term “flourishing” to describe mentally healthy adults who have high levels of emotional well-being in their lives.

“Students think that feeling good about life is far better than functioning well in it,” said Keyes, who urged professors and students to “prioritize flourishing” in their lives.

“Are you getting your daily recommendation of meaning in life?” asked Keyes.

“We’ll be holding up a professional mirrors for you in the course of this next year as you begin as law students and budding professionals to think about those deeper questions,” said Witte, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Alonzo McDonald Family Foundation Distinguished Professor. He will teach a course on “The Pursuit of Happiness in Interdisciplinary Perspective" in the fall for law students.

The capstone event of the Pursuit of Happiness programming will “summon the wisdom of the Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions on the understanding of flourishing,” said Witte. The Dalai Lama will lead a public conversation on happiness with other world religious leaders at the “Interfaith Summit on Happiness” Oct. 17.

“Adding the ancient Buddhist teachings on this subject opens a new and welcomed dimension to our current and future work,” said Philip Reynolds, Aquinas Professor of Historical Theology at Candler School of Theology, the CSLR senior fellow who directs the project.

The Pursuit of Happiness project is expected to produce about 20 new books from the project scholars.

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  • Learn more about the series of public events planned to showcase the findings and teachings of “The Pursuit of Happiness” project.