The Search For Balance: The Happy U Project
Everyone seeks happiness, many would argue it is a pillar of human existence. Yet for many students creating a school, social, and self-balance can be challenging. Now more than ever It is important to step away from our lives as students and focus on ourselves. Since February there has been a new program called HappyU in place at THUAS, which tries to provide this service to students. Every Monday at 17:00 students gather online through Teams. Through meditation, career writing, and diversity thinking students are challenged to reflect. The program is run by three THUAS staff members. Paul Pouw who is a senior lecturer in the program ‘Facility Management’, Mijke Post who is a lecturer and coach, and Simten Goren who is an advisor of world citizenship.
Happy U was launched in February of 2020, and alongside helping students through personal development the initiative is also a formal research project. Paul, Mijke, and Simten met each other through Leonard Geluk, the previous chair of the executive board of The Hague University of Applied Sciences. There is a common understanding between the three that there is a gap within our educational structure that does not account for the personal development of students. “As an institute for higher education we seem to train people to play a role in today's economy and society by means of them getting a degree. But there is so much more we should feel responsible for” said Paul. The goal of Happy U is just this, to enable students to develop who they are in order to leave university with not only professional knowledge but self-understanding. “Students want to know what they could mean for the world, and to find their purpose, and how to connect with those around them” said Simten. The program assists students in finding meaning in their own life.
Happy U is made up of three major components that aim to provide students with the opportunity to focus on personal development. Writing of self, which is a writing method that enables a continuous reflection process in which the student learns to develop and articulate a narrative identity through creative, expressive, and reflective writing. Ikigai (Japanese term for ‘the reason you wake up in the morning’) and mindfulness, which is achieved through meditation and self-reflection. The final component is diversity thinking, focused on open-mindedness and world citizenship, in order to let students understand and experience the complexity, dynamic nature and cultural awareness of identity. Paul summarizes this by stating that “You start from listening to yourself, listening to the silence within yourself, hearing your voice, that is meditation. Life and career writing gives you space to get that voice out, and to explore how you became who you are, and why you are who you are. The last aspect is diversity, which means it is time to give yourself a voice and words, so that you will be more open to listening to that of others”.
Weekly sessions last 2 hours, during which students follow a variety of activities focused on each of the concepts above, whether that be writing, meditating, or discussion. Like all other programs, Happy U has shifted online, “It’s nice that we started face-to-face because it’s nice to shake hands, nice to say hello, touch and see each other” said Mijke. Despite no physical interaction the power of each session is still maintained, Mijke continued by saying that “the thing that you can see each other’s rooms so it’s closer to who you are and where you’re from, so you have an intimate kind of interface. And to see all those people so isolated, it’s becoming more clear - for me it was already clear - it is very important to do soft skills and how to learn, how to keep motivated, how to work on time management, so this has always been a nice extra on top of the professional mindset. ”
There are a variety of reasons why a student might join Happy U. Amel, a Happy U participant would describe Happy U with the word Insightful. The usage of one word to describe a thing has become a part of every Happy U meeting. She thinks of it as insightful because it gives her insight into her own emotions. Amel has communicated with her counselor before that she has a hard time multitasking, and creating her schedule in a way that is beneficial to her. So when she was told about Happy U, and how it has to do with self-development, learning how to combine school with your social life, she realized that is exactly what she needed. Which is how she got involved with Happy U. People have told her to meditate, and to write down how she feels in order to process things before. While she would plan on it, she would never get to the point of doing. Finding herself in a group, however, gives her a sense of responsibility. It has impacted her in the sense that she is productively working on self-development now. There is a hope for it to become a habit, to the point at which she will continue these activities even after the program has ended.
While Amber, another Happy U participant, was asked the question what Happy U is to her, she described it as a process of taking down layers of yourself. As people go from place to place wearing a specific mask. She described it as a way of taking off these masks to look at them, and to look at the person behind them to figure out what she wants. She joined the program in order to meet new people, and get inspired by those around her. To find an activity outside of class, in order to be more engaged with the University. She also got referred by her student counselor. Before joining Happy U, she would be more prone to making socially acceptable statements. Which means she would filter herself in a way that wouldn't allow her to share her own story. Throughout the process, she learned the importance of sharing her story. She considers the combination of meditation, diversity thinking and creative writing to be a strong one. While meditating you learn self-awareness, diversity thinking gives you the awareness of those around you, while creative writing teaches you to write it all down, to find the words and articulate new insights.
Both Amber and Amel feel that if this program were to become a part of our education system, it would be beneficial to all. Whether a person has anxiety or not, there is always room for self-improvement, to look within yourself and see what is unconsciously bothering you. Erika, a Happy U participant states “Since I have joined Happy U, I have experienced a truly impressive variety of different emotions and feelings. I feel like I am becoming able to not only look at others from aside but to observe myself clearer, more in-depth.”
This crisis is making it more apparent that a program like Happy U is needed for student’s success. It is something that all students can benefit from and should be more widely available and integrated into our educational system. “It's rewarding, on a professional and personal level, to work with a mixture of students from all kinds of disciplines and countries and cultures. I think it is logical to learn and evaluate and make it better. A different perspective comes in when you work with students and lecturers from different disciplines, countries, backgrounds, and universities” says Mijke. Simten continued with what stood out the most “As well as the fact that it might motivate you to make the world a better place. What is also a part of it all, is sharing your perspective with others. To think about a better world collectively”. Through the program students and teachers alike have gotten the opportunity to create a happier self.
By: Kinza Hussain, with help from Fenna Milbauer