Editor's note: One of the last classes I taught at SUNY Albany before I retired was called "Reading and Writing the Happier Self," or just the Happiness class. What follows is a list of journal assignments I compiled for the class.
This year's Happiness class doesn't start until January 18th, but ideas for the class are starting to roll around in my head like sparkling marbles, in part because students interested in the class keep coming to my office to ask me what it's all about. So here is a preview of some of the journal assignments that I will present to the students. I can't decide yet which ones will be mandatory. The Gratitude List certainly will be, maybe others too. I invite you to make comments and suggestions for other assignments.
1) Start a GRATITUDE LIST being very specific about the things in life for which you are grateful: "I am grateful that I have eyes to see the sky. I am grateful that I have teeth to chew my food. I am grateful that I have food." See how long you can make this list. Can you make it a daily practice to write down three or four or five things for which you are grateful?
2) Identity the "small" moments in which you become keenly aware of something that makes you joyful. Be specific and describe the effects on your senses: e.g., “I saw a tree today covered in ice and the sun hitting it was so pretty, I just stood there in awe.”
3) Turn these moments into Haiku? Longer poems?
4) Describe specific SENSATIONS associated when you are really paying attention to what you are doing: "I enjoyed the smell of my morning coffee. I enjoyed the way the warm cup felt in my hands. I enjoyed the smell of the cool air when I stepped outdoors."
5) The next time you find yourself feeling calm, take a moment and "draw" the feeling associated with it. Find a color for it. A visual. Collect images from magazines that make you feel calm.
6) Identify one small thing you can do to help another person. Describe what happens after you do it
7) Make a list of ways in which you can show others what it means to be happy.
8) Have a conversation about mindfulness with someone, in which you try to explain what it means to pay attention moment by moment without judgement. Then write about that conversation and what it taught you.
9) Forgive someone for something small. Write about that. Forgive someone for something "bigger." Write about the idea that we should "Forgive everyone, for everything.”
10) The next time you get angry at someone, write about it. Write about why you are angry and how exactly it feels in your body. Be specific. Put the writing away and later come back and write these words at the top of the page: "What will this matter in 100 years?" See if you can “enlighten” yourself as to why that anger is/was there and why being angry doesn't really get you anywhere, except for more angry.
11) Do something nice for yourself and write about how that feels. Then, do something nice for someone else and write about how that feels.
12) Write about whether or not you are impatient. What does it feel like to be impatient? What prompts you to feel impatient?
13) Find a living object (flower?
Tree? A baby? ☺) and see if you can stare at it for five whole minutes without stopping. Then write about what that felt like.
14) See if the next time you eat, you can wait one whole minute before you dig in. Later, write about what went on in your head during that minute. What did you notice? Did you feel more gratitude for the food? Did you think about any of the people (farmer, factory worker, trucker, grocery store shelver, grocery store check out person, cook) who had to devote their time to making it possible to have this food?
15) Write a couple of paragraphs about the sky. Then wait a few hours and write about the sky again. Has it changed? How? Write about how you feel about a blue sky.
15) TRY LAUGHING. SEE IF YOU CAN LAUGH FOR ONE MINUTE. Then write about laughing and why you think research shows that laughter can help you be physically healthier.