Studying the science of achieving happiness

17:00, Sep 06 2013

The secret to happiness has been sought by many, and now a new university course is offering a scientific explanation.

Drawing on the wisdom of the ancients, the Victoria University philosophy course aims to guide students along the twin paths of happiness and wellbeing.

In an increasingly materialistic world the course will help students realise what the ancients have always known - the pursuit of pleasure and wealth leads to increased expectations, which leads to recurring disappointment when these expectations are not continually surpassed.

"Our happiness is not improving at the moment.

"In the Western world we have all these things and freedom but if we expect to have them we take them for granted so we don't get enough value out of them," course lecturer Dan Weijers says.

Along with a dash of pop psychology and a scoop of self-help, the undergraduate paper will look at timeworn theories of happiness, as well as the modern debate around what constitutes a good life.

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"If we have a better idea of what happiness is and what is important in life, then we might come to think that a focus on economic growth is not such a good idea."

Practising the five steps to happiness - giving, learning, staying active, recognising your accomplishments and connecting with others - is something Dr Weijers does "mainly out of habit and genetic predisposition, I was doing these things before I learnt why I should be doing them".

Studying philosophy was once considered a path to happiness, and he plans to gauge his students' happiness at the beginning and end of the course.

Truth, meaning, and achievement may be just as important as happiness.

Dr Weijers thinks some students might get a fresh slant on the phrase, "you only live once" - or YOLO as the acronym now goes.

"They might come to realise that if you only live once, then it might be better to live a long life - one in which quality relationships with others can be formed and lasting achievements can be accomplished."

SMILE AND...

The five (scientifically proven) steps to happiness:

Connect: Close friends and family help you enjoy the good times and get through the bad.

Be active: Being fit and healthy helps you do what you want and enjoy doing it.

Take notice: Appreciate the good things in your life.

Keep learning: Develop new skills to feel better about yourself.

Give: Sharing makes us four times happier than being selfish.

Fairfax Media