‘The Happiness Project’ comes to UPEACE

 In Guest Blogs

Long Island University participants in the 'Designing Your Life' workshop at the University for Peace
Catrina Ziesman is a Program Coordinator and guest blogger for the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education.

The New York Times bestselling novel entitled ‘The Happiness Project‘ by Gretchen Rubin recounts a woman’s 12-month journey examining the concept of happiness. Borne of her initial revelation of how quickly life was passing her by without meaning or intention, she finds that identifying what brings you joy and creating tangible resolutions to keep that flowing in your life is a project in happiness worth pursuing. Rubin discusses how, in designing her Happiness Project, she used her predisposition to learn from another person’s highly idiosyncratic experience, rather than from universal principles or current academic studies. I recently had the opportunity to join a 2-day workshop with a group of diverse, animated, vibrant study abroad students from Long Island University, and was able to learn from those very same idiosyncratic experiences of others, as this group set out to design their own Happiness Project.

Facilitated by Mohit Mukherjee, Director of the Centre for Executive Education, Day 1 began with some storytelling of a lifelong friendship and a conversation that changed the course of his future toward the pursuit of “doing what you love.” After all, ‘Designing Your Life’ was the topic of this workshop, and it’s fair to assume that we each have had, or will have, moments in our journeys that impact the course of our intention and our life’s direction.

In a course like the Centre’s Designing Your Life, where topics covered range from Design Thinking and Appreciative Inquiry to Relationships & Empathy and Values Assessment, it’s a poignant opportunity for participants to dive in and explore the good and the bad of themselves, their present state of being as well as their future goals and aspirations, not unlike Rubin’s novel itself. Overwhelming, right? Perhaps. Throughout the 2 days, there were certainly palpable moments of digestion within the group; young adults in their first year of study in an overseas context figuring out their place in the world. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that times which require great amounts of energy, also present and exceptional space for growth. It was a remarkable experience to participate in these young people’s journeys of using that spirited energy to design and grow into their own variation of a Happiness Project.

The face-to-face nature of this onsite workshop facilitated a fantastic opportunity for engagement and interaction, allowing time for contemplation and digestion of materials. A focus on story-telling gave weight to the power of sharing personal experiences and passions. Whether in a professional development workshop or at home around the dinner table with our families, a story carries a heavy mission to influence, motivate and foster connections between ourselves and others. In moments throughout the 2 days, I was lucky enough to have some very meaningful conversations that reminded me of the excitement that our unknown future’s hold, and the value of a quest for happiness.

Below is a snap-shot of some of the most inspiring and exciting exchanges throughout the daily activities:

– Conversing with a student on how to utilize her newly learned Appreciative Inquiry techniques in a field study project in Trinidad & Tobago on the influence of Hinduism on a melting pot of religions and cultures

– Observing another student’s discovery of how failures are subjective experiences which impact your new direction and teach lessons of no regrets

– A final conversation whereby a drafting a new life-plan that included an interest in women’s reproductive health rights and a love of international affairs culminated in a more clear perspective of future career plans

This on-site workshop, set in the beautiful surroundings of the University for Peace campus in Costa Rica, allowed me to glean tidbits of inspiration for my own Happiness Project, as well as reflect upon the fact that my story may not have been so different from these young people’s, 10 years ago. Though I participated in this workshop at 28 years old instead of 18 years old like most of the LIU group, I was fascinated by the content’s adaptability and relevance to meet us wherever we are in our lives.

In Gretchen Rubin’s novel, ‘The Happiness Project’, she discusses a great problem: having everything she could possibly want, yet failing to appreciate it. A key component of any Happiness Project is in recognizing the beauty that exists around you, and simply, appreciating it. In a final discussion circle to end off the course, it was clear that the group (myself included!) had a new tool kit of activities and resources to view life through an appreciative lens, write their own stories, challenge the status quo, and most importantly, to fearlessly and fervently pursue happiness.

Guest Blogger – Catrina Ziesman

Catrina is an International Projects Manager from Ontario, Canada with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology (minor in International Development) from the University of Guelph. Over the past 6 years, she has worked with grassroots NGO’s in projects related to public health and community development. She consults on a Maternal and Child Health project in Kenya, specializing in the community health research and rural extension portion of the work, and in the past worked for a small NGO that specializes in HIV/AIDS programming in Lesotho, Africa. Catrina supports the Centre’s online education programs.

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