Pursuing Happiness: A New Elective at WMC

Document+showcasing+and+describing+the+projects+from+last+semester%27s+Pursuing+Happiness+class.

Document showcasing and describing the projects from last semester’s Pursuing Happiness class.

Pursuing Happiness, a one-semester elective dedicated to learning and implementing strategies to boost happiness and relieve stress, debuted this year at West Morris Central after a successful year being taught at West Morris Mendham. It is taught by Mrs. Feury, an English teacher from West Morris Mendham High school.

“This is my tenth year as a teacher,” Mrs. Feury said. “Over that time, I’ve noticed how much stress has increased… for both students and for teachers, including myself.” During one winter break, she pondered the solution to this. After doing some research, she randomly came across an article about Yale’s popular happiness class. “I read the article, and I was just like, this is it,” she remembered. “I need to do something like this.”

The class itself is structured in two parts: first, students learn about concepts and strategies for improving happiness. Second, students apply what they have learned and track these strategies in their own lives. 

“You learn a lot about yourself,” Mrs. Feury said in regards to the first part of the class. “For instance, even in class today, we are learning about our own character strengths… what our top four are, and how we use them in our day-to-day lives.”

Some of the concepts covered and tracked in this class include gratitude, the benefit of spending time outside or with pets, meditation, and living in the moment, as well as topics that get in the way of happiness and how to respond to stress.

Pursuing Happiness is different from something like English class where you start with specific books and events and then make the connection to yourself. This class is more unique because, as Mrs. Feury said, “it starts with the connection to ourselves. We look inward to understand it.”

Through teaching this class, Mrs. Feury has two main goals: one, to help students de-stress, and two, to have students walk away with things that they can use in their lives. In fact, seeing her students actually put these strategies to use is one of her favorite parts about this class. Her other favorite part, though, is the end-of-class project. She loves to see how students can help to spread the positive effects of this class to other people in the school district.

The end-of-class project aligns with the purpose of the second part of this class: it is an opportunity for the students to “create a project that applies what they learned towards helping the school community”. Last month, Mr. Rymer forwarded an email from Mrs. Feury to the student body that showcased the projects from last semester’s class. If you are part of the WMRHSD domain, you can access the document here. From spreading kindness through social media to cooperating with art classes to brighten up the school with artwork, this project simultaneously demonstrates students’ creativity while bringing positivity to the school community. The latter is especially important as of right now, given the pandemic and overall stressful state of the world.

Because of hybrid learning, the class unfortunately cannot do as many hands-on activities as Mrs. Feury had planned when she started teaching the class. For example, before the pandemic, therapy dogs could be brought in and they could occasionally take walks outside. This may not be possible now, but as progress is made towards stopping the spread of COVID-19, these will ideally be plausible in upcoming years.

If you are interested in signing up for Pursuing Happiness in upcoming years, be sure to look for it under the English Department section on the course selection document. It is a semester-long class and counts as credit towards the IB-CP Life and Health Science pathway.

In an end-of-course survey that Mrs. Feury gave the students, she asked them “if someone were to ask you about this class, what would you say?” One response that she shared was that Pursuing Happiness “makes you a better you.”