‘Understanding what makes you happy is a lifelong process:’ Sociology professor to help students pursue happiness

Krystal Miller, Staff Writer

For the fall 2021 semester, professor and Co-Director of Sociology Suzanne Hudd is bringing the special topics course “Pursuit of Happiness” (SO-300) to Quinnipiac University. 

“So often in a sociology course, we tend to shift to the problems of the world and the issues in the world, the inequalities as a focus,” Hudd said. “I began to think about a way I could infuse something more positive into the curriculum.” 

Connor Lawless

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired Hudd to bring a lighthearted course to the sociology curriculum. She explains how mental health has become an even bigger priority due to the changing structure of our lives.

 “I hope students will get the comparison between those wider societal messages that they receive, but also internally begin to scope out what really does make them happy, and is it in fact in sync with some of those societal messages or are there some discrepancies there,” Hudd said.

While other classes may prepare students for careers that make the most money for them, Hudd said her class focuses on students gaining fulfillment. That discovery allowed her to ponder the purpose of life and finding her own path when she was in college.

Payscale’s 2019 College Salary survey asked 3.5 million people if their work made the world a better place. People with majors in the health field, community and social service felt they provide people with meaning in their life. 

Ariela Reder, the director of counseling services, said there will need to be more time for a specific set of data that shows the impact of students’ mental health throughout the pandemic, but there are some conclusions to be drawn. 

“Someone who’s already had some difficulties with mental health issues would have had a very different response than someone who was fairly stable and well functioning when all of this started right, so they probably would have a different reaction,” Reder said.

Students at Quinnipiac have firsthand seen the effect of the pandemic on their physical and mental health. 

“The pandemic has impacted many peoples’ mental health,” said Maribeth Sullivan, sophomore English major in the 4+1 teaching program.  “I am personally less motivated and have trouble concentrating. It’s also harder to stay healthy and eat right when you are isolated.”

Achieving happiness is not a consistent process, which is why Hudd recommends taking the steps to learn more on your own. 

“Understanding what makes you happy is a lifelong process, like many things,” Hudd said. “In fact, what makes you happy will evolve over time, so it’s really sitting with yourself a lot and understanding, but yet at the same time, integrating that with some of the course readings.”

The course will involve a lot of writing to reflect on happiness, but it will also be a chance for students to go out and do activities that make them happy, Reder said. Along with the course readings, there will be time to understand and take the time to attempt your happiness journey.  

Alyssa Albanese, sophomore nursing major, said about how the course will be effective in teaching students ways to navigate happiness. 

“I decided to take this course because happiness is one of the most important parts of everyone’s lives and I want to know how happiness is achieved for others,” Albanese said. 

Reder emphasized the importance of recharging one’s energy to improve mental health and overall happiness. 

“Mental health is basically how we feel about ourselves, and how we function in the world is very much impacted by the simple things that we do,” Reder said.

Taking care of eating habits, hobbies and sleep schedule contributes to the energy people have throughout the day. Reder mentions how everyone has their own ways of recharging, but everyone needs the ability to recharge to uplift their mental health. 

“I’m a social person so I think that some of those techniques get overwritten by the societal messages,” Hudd said. “So that’s what I’m trying to bring into it, that is why I think sociology is the perfect place for this class to sort of contrast those two things, the internal and the external.” 

Hudd took an online course called “The Science of Well-Being” on Coursera last summer, a free course by Yale that became popular during the pandemic, and is taking “Mindfulness and Social Justice” this year through Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford. She is being trained to be a certified mindfulness facilitator. Hudd has been able to take things learned in these courses and integrate them into her classroom to help students. 

“Like most of my classes, I think one of the goals of many sociology classes is to expose and make visible what is invisible,” Hudd said. 

Hudd talked about how sociology lets students expose and observe the experiences of people with varying identities, particularly racial groups and sexualities. 

The invisibility is seen in happiness, people are doing things that they think will make them happy when in fact they are not. The class will be taking structural elements of happiness and personal experiences while going into more depth about how the two come together. 

“I try to connect and help them see that in reality much of what sociology teaches can help them benefit their lives in some ways,” Hudd said. 

Hudd explained how even students who did not plan to take a sociology course can still better themselves from it. She mentioned how life can be improved if you understand the principles that underlie societal structure, such as how organizations work or the education process. 

“There are lots of outside things that can influence that process, and maybe change that process or you could stay on that track and then have a job and suddenly at 35 realize you’re not very happy in that job,” Hudd said. 

In 2011, Priceless: The Nonpecuniary Benefits of Schooling included a survey that used data from the United States General Social Surveys, which concluded that 94% of people with a bachelor’s degree or more reported feeling happy or very happy with their lives overall, while 89% of high school graduates said the same. 

Reder explained how even when bad things are happening, there is always a way to recognize the positive. 

“So how would you define happiness if it’s like this idea of perfection?” Reder said. “Then I think most of us don’t achieve it and, therefore, are often not feeling happy, but part of self care is the practice of gratitude and learning the practice of gratitude, the ability to find and recognize the good that is in your life that doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen.” 

Mental health and overall happiness are influenced by being able to see both the positive and the negative things throughout the day. 

In the university community, the counseling center is available, and it is easy to make an appointment the same day. There is also the ability to speak to a licensed professional over the phone 24/7. Call the counseling center number 8680 or the phone number 203-588-680 and press 3 to get connected with a professional. 

“There’s always help available and if you’re worried about yourself, or maybe worried about a friend,” Reder said. “Please call us and let us know, let us get you on your way to doing better.”

Hudd explained that happiness is not something she can give her students, but something she can give the tools for them to achieve themselves. 

“That’s not up to me, that’s up to them,” Hudd said. “I’m going to give them a path to explore and be self aware, and be aware of others and be aware of those larger messages, but one thing I would say is happiness isn’t something anyone can create for someone else they have to create it for themselves.”