Healthy Living

Finding Happiness Through Strong Social Ties, And A Meaningful Connection To The 'Greater Good'

Group happiness
People who foster strong social ties and feel connected to something greater than themselves are more likely to feel happier, according to neuroscientists at Berkeley College. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Positive psychology professors and neuroscience researchers at Berkeley College in California have created a free online course aimed at teaching people how to be happy, based entirely on scientific research.

Called “The Science of Happiness” and hosted by Greater Good Science Center, the eight-week course focuses on two major and scientifically-proven steps to happiness: building strong social ties and developing a sense of connection to the greater good.

“The [course] starts with the idea that happiness and health are fundamentally about strong social connections and being immersed in a strong social community,” Dacher Keltner, a Berkeley psychology professor, told The Huffington Post. “We’re going to zero in on things that build strong social ties and communities — things like compassion, empathy, how to read people’s emotions, gratitude, charity, generosity and giving.”

Probably one of the best things about the course is that it’s open to the public and free of charge. Almost 30,000 people have already signed up, according to The Huffington Post. The center will use Berkeley’s Edx platform, an open coursework system, and is expected to enroll 100,000 people.

For those who shy away from anything overtly spiritual or religious, they’ll be happy to find that the course is science-based, and the majority of the teachers are neuroscientists and psychologists rather than spiritual leaders. “Everything we teach in the science of happiness is based on a research finding,” Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center, said. “We don’t have a philosophical or spiritual tenor underneath it. My background is in neuroscience, and I don’t have any other agenda than to give people more information about what works and what doesn’t work.”

Positive psychology examines the positive things about mental health, or the study of happiness, put simply. It has been used as a form of therapy to treat depression, helping people focus on the positive things in their life and stop the “downward spirals” of negative thinking and catastrophizing. Positive psychology focuses on making life more fulfilling for people, rather than emphasizing the treatment of mental illnesses, taking things like talents, strengths, and values into account to remind people of their own virtues and resilience.

“For the past 10 years, the Greater Good Science Center has been trying to share the science behind the idea that the best way to pursue happiness is through pursuing a meaningful life — meaningful being constituted by committing yourself to a greater purpose beyond your own self-interest,” Simon-Thomas told The Huffington Post. “This includes meaningful relationships, community and a sense of belonging, and contributing to the greater good.” Practicing positive thinking involves learning from people who have positive and fulfilling lives. The course will offer participants practical ways to nurture happiness, providing them with tasks each week that will assist them in fostering social ties and their own mental well-being.

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