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Learning to live well in lockdown: A student’s diary on the Science of Happiness course

When I heard the Science of Happiness course was being made available, I was immediately curious. Not only did Bruce Hood’s course offering provide the prospect of doing something to cheer me up during lockdown, but because I’ve spent the past year admiring the authentic learning techniques used in the Bristol Futures course. However, I had my reservations, with over 700 students and only 4 weeks can this really improve my happiness? Either way, I had the time to try.  

Week 1:  

After the usual technical difficulties, the lecture began. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of watching things online and unlike many student’s RePlay has always baffled me, but this lecture actively encouraged you to engage. Using the chatbot rather than being asked to raise your hand/ turn on your video and microphone made it feel safer to ask questions. I was less afraid of asking a stupid question, or of my video freezing at a comical moment (the new reliance on technology does not suit my decrepit laptop). We were also encouraged to use the chatbot for just that: chat. Hearing about where people were from and what they were feeling grateful for made it feel more like I was in a room of likeminded people rather than staring at blank screens.  

From an authentic learning standpoint, the Science of Happiness really glows, particularly in the way that it is ‘assessed’ (as an optional course it is not credit bearing assessment). Before setting our weekly task, Prof. Hood provided an entire slide about WHY we should be doing these tasks and HOW it would be helpful for us. This is always something I have struggled with at university, being set tasks that at the time feel arbitrary and I am unsure about what their purpose is or the skills I am developing. By explaining it simple terms why we should be doing the task, it made me look forward to doing it, and excited to see the possible results.  

From the perspective of a student in lockdown, I was excited to see the blending of synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Again, with a decrepit laptop and dodgy internet connection, the interactive seminars were not always in my favour, so the opportunity to reflect on the course in my own time by completing small daily tasks was appealing. Similarly, a big part of this course seems to be about reflection: on your day; on your experiences; on your relationships. I am also applying this to my learning outside of this course with the hope it might become a valuable ‘Way to Wellbeing’, particularly in a time when it is easy to wish things were different.  

All in all, I’m looking forward to the rest of this course, and who knows, maybe it’ll make my life in lockdown a little bit happier

Week 2:  

As forewarned, my hedonistic adaptation kicked in slightly this week, and although I noticed a significant change in my mood shortly after the first lecture I have now noticed it drop back down to normal; external factors may have come into play with this week being full of deadlines. Nonetheless, the homework, write 3 things that went well in your day has been making my evenings far more pleasant, and I have been able to savour the little things much better: sitting on the grass with my dog, really good bread etc. Also, by doing a little bit of asynchronous work each day (8-10 minutes) I have really stayed engaged with the ideas and concepts behind the lectures. 

This week for our homework we are to write a gratitude letter expressing our thanks to someone close to us and READ IT TO THEM. While I see how helpful this would be, I would be lying if I said that my inner Stiff Upper Lip is battling against my desire to try and reach a new level of sustained happiness. We will see, I have the feeling that with the right amount of nervous laughter and self-deprecating jokes I will manage to stutter the words out. 

One aspect of the lecture that really changed the way that I am currently viewing lockdown is the idea of ‘Focalism’: being obsessed with one thing and thus being unable to see the context and situations that go on alongside it. This is easy to do with university at the best of times, focusing so hard on the stress of impending deadlines that you fail to see any of the positives going on around you. Lockdown puts this into hyperdrive, and I have previously spent days absorbed in the news, not focusing on the fact that the weather’s been lovely in England for almost eight weeks or that the lack of dog groomers means that the family dog now resembles a pompom made by a very young child who has not yet mastered their motor skills.  

Week 3:  

This week was on mindfulness. Not to sound too colloquial, but mindfulness is my jam. I love yoga and meditation and am a full believer in breathwork, chakras, EVERYTHING. I greatly enjoyed the homework and the five-minute meditation session mid-lecture. For any two-hour lecture, I would say this is a must halfway through.  A lot of the lecture this week focused on the impact of exercise on mood, and while I think most people know that, I was surprised to find that the reasoning behind this was not the endorphins released (although I’m sure that helps) but a routine. By committing a bit of time each week to something it gives us structure, which in turn makes us feel more purposeful and ultimately, happy.  

Week 4:  

The final week was on goal setting, and I am beginning to see the benefits of going through all the studies which initially while I enjoyed as they are interesting examples, thought they detracted from the core content. This course has not told me anything I didn’t already know; diet, exercise and sleep are important and through reflecting, mindfulness and gratitude you can feel more fulfilled, but it has allowed me to understand all of these concepts on a deeper level and empathise with my past self about why I may have failed to do these things in the past and imagine the obstacles that may stop me doing it in the future.  

Pedagogically, there were also many aspects of the course that I really enjoyed. The variety of homework was something that I really relished, and it was enjoyable having a distinction from week to week. In a lockdown exam context, it helped to break up the monotony of essays and gave me something productive to do each day. Furthermore, while I was not very good at keeping up with the Nudge app, the fact that I had a medium to contact my lecturers without logging on to blackboard and my email, meant that if I was having problems with any of the tasks I could contact them in a less formal manner than logging on to blackboard.  

I guess the ultimate question is, am I happier because of taking the course? For anyone who knows me, I’m a pretty cheerful person anyway, so I’m not sure my happiness has gone up drastically. However, I have noticed significantly less ‘bad days’, and my ability to cope with these bad days has felt more conscious as if I am equipped with strategies to do so.  Similarly, I feel like I’ve been able to appreciate the good days more and be a little bit more present in moments of enjoyment. In short, I am a believer, and would strongly recommend anyone and everyone to enrol on this course in the future.  

Marnie Woodmeade, Student Fellow

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