Fill in the blank: “If I had ___, then I’d be happy.”
What was the answer? Money? Love? A career? People, especially young adults with such an uncertain path, often have a hard time finding true peace and happiness within themselves. That is where Adam Campbell comes in. For the past four weeks, several Truman State University students participated in his class, “The Science of Happiness,” where attendees learned how to reflect on themselves and give both internal and external gratitude.
“This has been a passion of mine for 20-25 years,” Campbell said. “Kind of this idea of understanding your life’s purpose, even if it is unknown, and having the courage to follow it through.”
Campbell explained how strange habits of the mind can bring suffering. Citing a Yale University study from 2013, Campbell said college students who are saturated with social media show higher risk for depression.
The research found that over 50% of Yale students went to seek mental help from their facility on campus. Campbell saw these kinds of studies and said he wanted to work with students because this is a very fragile time for them in terms of forming identity, purpose and direction.
The seminar was intended to make students think more about what brings them joy and what can truly provide emotional peace. During the pandemic and this challenging semester, many students have faced new or continuing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
“My main goal for this seminar is to help students realize how often what they are seeking for happiness is bringing them suffering and stress,” Campbell said. “We keep thinking that if we get these things that we want that it will bring us happiness, but there are studies that show that they don’t. My hope is to show that there are a lot of students who are stressed right now, and the reasons are not always obvious.”
Campbell described the process of cultivating happiness as a shift in habits and patterns. By seeking different goals that bring a different sense of fulfillment, Campbell said it is possible to find a permanent sense of happiness, peace and tranquility that is accessible over time through certain practices and ways of being.
Campbell also encouraged participants to increase personal happiness and excitement by doing something nice for others and taking risks, among other activities in the class.
“My hope is to help students take a step back from the college experience that sucks you in, pulls you through and then spits you back out on the other side and says, ‘Good luck,’” Campbell said.
Campbell asked the participants to think about what is really meaningful to them, rather than what school or career they would like to start next. Because Campbell knew those concerns tend to be on the minds of many college students, he wanted to focus on reorienting their goals toward a greater pursuit.
Campbell also emphasized the impact of cultural stories and whether the way people are living their lives right now line up with what they claim is really important to them.
“They don’t actually realize that there is a lot of dissonance,” Campbell explained. “We don’t realize that there are things that are important to us that aren’t being fed or met. We don’t realize that we are ingesting cultural stories that are pulling us out of our sense of authenticity instead of strengthening it … my hope for students in this class is that there can be a shift toward that authentic expression, formation and directionality of what will become a life well lived, instead of an accidental life that is pieced together that has a lot of stress, confusion and dissonance to it.”
Campbell also stated that being able to sit back and think about what makes one happy to get maximum fulfillment is good for students who feel as though they are just going through the motions and not truly living.
Senior Jordan Gregory, a seminar participant, explained that the seminar has helped him battle depression and reevaluate priorities.
“I learned that big ideas such as wealth and love will only bring me happiness for so long, until I return to the space of wanting the next big thing,” Gregory said.
He said he also learned that he should be seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in other areas outside of his career and love life. Gregory said that there are deeper forms of happiness than just success and marriage, and that this seminar is a great way to learn more about them.
“I would definitely recommend this class to my peers,” Gregory said. “I think that this is a super important topic that should be discussed. I wish it was more prevalent in the curriculum of the University, but since it is not, I think that this is a great option.”
Although this semester’s seminar has already passed, students interested in attending the seminar can take part next semester. Prospective participants can contact Campbell at email@example.com.