Forced Smiles: Why the Junior Class Is Unhappy about the New Psychology Class

Kate McLaughlin, Staff Writer

November 13, 2023

This year, Class II students are required to take a condensed version of the Happiness Class as a personal development (PD) course, replacing a free period for one semester. Brought to Nobles from Yale University by Director of Psychology and Counseling Jen Hamilton, the adapted PD Happiness Class aims to address the multitude of pressures that Class II students face, including workload, college admissions, and sports recruiting. Initial feedback has not been positive, as a Class II survey reveals that 87.9% of survey takers find the class unhelpful and time-consuming. 

Between high workloads and stress levels, academic pressure often threatens students’ mental well-being. Wellness and Personal Development Instructor Kate Harrington, alongside Hamilton, introduced the Happiness PD Class with hopes that techniques like gratitude journals would improve the present and future mental health of students. “The reason that we want to teach this course to juniors is to help them think honestly about what is going to make [them] happy and what [they] are looking for,” Harrington said.

Although the course has good intentions, students have differing opinions on its effectiveness. Many students feel the class uses guilt to delegitimize the natural realities of students’ lives, such as prioritizing grades and striving for academic success. Annie Lopez (Class II) said, “It’s a weird and unhelpful thing to tell a room full of juniors at Nobles that getting good grades doesn’t make you happy. It’s pointless and honestly a little irritating.” Many students feel their concerns are invalid. Similarly, others view the class as hypocritical, as it consumes time that could otherwise be used for work or socializing. Popular opinion suggests that the Happiness PD Class counterproductively steals time from students’ already hectic schedules. 

Hamilton and Harrington believe the practices of the course outweigh the time concerns by ultimately improving well-being. Although currently straining students’ aspirations, the class will teach coping skills against pressure for years to come. “Taking care of our well-being actually increases our ability to reach goals…We want students to learn that well-being and achievement are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually reinforcing,” Hamilton said. The new schedule also creates more free periods for students while still factoring in the Happiness PD Class. 

Additionally, the course fosters a relaxed atmosphere. Hamilton and Harrington ensure the class doesn’t overly reprimand students for their behavior. “Hopefully, it does not feel like a huge commitment. We don’t want to make this a chore, and we don’t want people to feel guilty for not doing their gratitude today,” Harrington said.

(Graphic Credit: Kate McLaughlin)

Class II students also take issue with the emphasis on videos in the class. The teacher of Yale’s Happiness Class, Laurie Santos, shares her lessons through a series of online videos. Harrington believes the lessons should remain in her voice. “She and her team put so much effort into adapting the course for high schoolers. We know the video content is very deliberate, and we want to honor that,” Harrington said. However, students find the videos repetitive to the point of being overbearing. Changes will be made to video selections for next year, but the video emphasis will stay the same. 

Although many dislike the Happiness PD Class, there has been some positive feedback among the criticisms. Hamilton and Harrington are known as effective and attentive teachers. Lopez said, “[Hamilton] did a good job conveying the message about happiness and mental health in a way that engages kids.” Despite the challenging nature of the subject, both teachers promote a fun environment that provides students with refuge from the pressures they face at school.

Many Class II students have also implemented happiness practices into their lives. Gratitude journals, an activity on appreciating aspects of life, is a prevalent technique. “Some students have reported using their gratitude journals even outside of class, which is awesome,” Harrington said. Lopez reinforced their effectiveness, saying, “It’s really helpful for me to come back to gratitude, especially when I’m having a tough week.” Especially at Nobles, finding gratitude is critical for mental well-being. 

The Happiness PD Class has much to offer Class II students. In the increasingly stressful environment of Nobles and society in general, the practices taught in the course are beneficial for easing academic and social expectations. The novelty of the course is partially responsible for the negative feedback, as Class II students are adjusting to the curriculum change and strenuous workload of junior year. Still, students should take advantage of the opportunity to improve their well-being through experts like Santos, Hamilton, and Harrington. “My biggest hope is that students come away from this course having identified a handful of strategies they will put into practice, and then they can leave the rest,” Harrington said. Whether currently taking the Happiness PD Class or looking toward the future, students should make the most of the course for their mental well-being.

(Photo Credit: Zack Mittelstadt)

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