Emory faculty, administrators and students put forth different perspectives on happiness and discussed ways of achieving it at Synergy’s second annual Happiness Summit on Friday.
This year’s Happiness Summit, during which speakers of all education levels and ages presented their views on happiness, reached out to the community and gave everybody something to relate to by offering spiritual, scientific and personal outlooks on what happiness is and how it is triggered.
Founded in fall 2007 by College junior Alex Kappus, Synergy was created with the purpose of bringing students and faculty together to make Emory a better place to live, according to College junior and outgoing Synergy President Walter Ecton.
Director of Emory University Counseling Center Mark McLeod emphasized the importance of addressing mental health problems in the community during his presentation. He said that the steps the College is taking, such as collecting a $50 mental health fee from students and producing a video that will help faculty understand their role in the mental health issue, are indicative of how significant the issue of mental health is at the school.
“What these steps say is that we can publicly state mental health care and counseling are important to us,” McLeod said.
McLeod said the biggest challenges the Counseling Center faces are how to reach out to students and how to time their business endeavors, such as adding new resources and staff.
Goizueta Business School sophomore Luka Anic said he faced different problems as an international student from Croatia. He said that although assimilating to life in the United States was often difficult, he felt he had it better than some other students because he had experienced two years of high school in the States before going to college.
“It was tremendously difficult to transition in the first few days,” Anic said of his first days in the states. “I kept thinking that I just made the biggest mistake of my life.”
Anic said that he found happiness by getting involved in activities around campus and meeting people who made him feel like he was a part of the community. He said he urges students to reach out to international students, but also just to get to know others in general. Knowing a lot of people on campus, he said, really made Emory home for him. He joked that since coming to Emory, his Facebook friend list has simply “exploded.”
The diversity, Anic said, is something he is really embracing and taking advantage of because that was not something he was used to back at home. For him, he said, this experience will not last for long. He said that his student visa expires just days after graduation.
“They’re serious about this thing,” Anic said. “You graduate, you pack your bags, you go.”
Goodrich C. White Professor Peggy Bartlett presented a source of happiness that she said was available anywhere. She said that for her, sustainability brings satisfaction.
Working on and cleaning a creek near her house was something that brought her energy, she said. She said that doing so made her happy because she was “always with friends, outdoors, and doing work with meaning.”
She said that in order to find happiness, it is important to learn from nature.
“We are always rethinking our relationship with the Earth,” Bartlett said. “Can we develop a rhythm, like the sun, which is up half the time and down half the time? Can we bring a rhythm to our lives that mimics nature?”
Like Bartlett, Director of the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center Dennis Choi is still looking for happiness within his field. He said that the neuroscience focuses more on sadness and depression because that is where the problem is.
“Happiness doesn’t need to be fixed; therefore it’s not an opportunity for scientists to make money,” Choi joked.
Choi said that the “neuroscientific outtake” on happiness is understood at the psychological level and can be looked at through the brain’s reward mechanism. He said that acts of selflessness, such as donating money and doing community service, stimulate the reward center in the brain and contribute to happiness.
Provost Earl Lewis said that it was ironic for him to be speaking at the Happiness Summit because the only scientific response he probably ever triggered was to “raise the blood pressure in every room” he entered.
“I have probably made more people unhappy than happy in the past two months,” he said to laughter. “Provost and happiness: do they even go together in the same sentence?”
Lewis said that leadership is key in a university environment. He said that happiness starts with the students asking themselves what the community around them needs and what can be done to achieve results.
A short workshop at the conclusion of the summit grouped faculty and students together to identify that happiness and how to achieve it. Administrators cited positive faculty as a reason students listed the plethora of opportunities and activities on campus as sources of happiness.
“If I can control 50 percent of my own happiness, what else can I do?” Lewis asked. “Happiness is something we can all play a part in defining.”
— Contact Alice Chen