Several years ago, my husband introduced me to the idea of studying happiness. Happiness? How on earth do you "study" something like that? He was really interested in finding more daily happiness because when we looked at our life, we saw we had a lot of really wonderful things - happy kids, nice home, good jobs...but he still felt down and stressed. We began by watching the documentary Happy and IT BLEW ME AWAY!
I immediately began showing it every semester in one of my classes because I know that many students in college are "waiting" to be happy. "When I get done with school and get a good job, I'll be happy." "When I meet the right person, I'll be happy." College is stressful too, so there is also a tendency to let that stress seep into every aspect of your daily life, and miss the bright spots.
I learned from the film that in recent years, psychologists have begun to study what makes people happy. After all, if they could study what made people depressed and try to help them, why not study what creates happiness and start to teach the world that? It lines up with the idea of preventative healthcare. Why not work a bit on being happier each day instead of waiting to realize you are down, and having to start from scratch?
I began to teach a college seminar class called The Happiness Equation where students learned college success strategies through the lens of positive psychology.
A main part of that course was dealing with the stress of time-management - this is one of the biggest hurdles students face and the reason about 30% of college students drop out.
That is how the Centered Student Planner was born. This was our textbook!
Instead of randomly putting alarms in your phone and having to tap on different apps to manage your schoolwork, the planner takes advantage of your amazing brain. Specifically, it taps into the way many of us learn: visually. By writing down all your classes, assignments, work hours and social commitments each week, you begin to "see" your time. It is no longer this abstract cloud hanging over your head with that nagging feeling of "I have so much to do." Now you SEE what you have to do.
Once you see it, you can start to plan better. You find "pockets" of time where you can get things done. You begin to feel a sense of control, and that sense of control leads to a reduction in free-floating stress which can cause procrastination -- simply because we are overwhelmed. The more you use a paper planner, the more it becomes a habit and the more you will feel in control. An added bonus: writing by hand activates the thinking part of your brain and increases memory.
But that really isn't all the planner does when it comes to creating a happiness habit. All the research shows that happy people also have other habits - they exercise and change it up a bit so they don't get bored. They spend time with friends and family. They practice mindfulness and try to live "in the moment." They also try to increase their self awareness and they practice gratitude.
That is why each week of the CSP asks you to determine a FOCUS for the week and break that down into your three most important tasks or events. (Mindfulness).
You are also asked to fill out a self-assessment for how you did at the end of the week - what did you do well? What can you do better? (Self-awareness).
Last but not least, each week you write down the things you are grateful for and that gratitude list, when done consistently (some folks do it every day), changes your perspective slowly and steadily. We learn to focus on what we have, rather than what we don't have. That leads to appreciation and compassion for others who have less than we do.
All of this life-changing behavior has been incorporated into a single week to make it as easy as possible for you, as a busy college student, to begin to build happiness habits. You will literally be RETRAINING your brain to default to a more positive perception of your life.
Come summer, the planner focuses on the 7 habits of happy people so if you are not taking classes, you can really dig in to the nuts and bolts of practicing happiness for seven weeks and THAT will be amazing.