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Main Wiki Page for Alfino's Happiness Course

This page has a variety of links related to the Happiness Class, taught by Dr. Mark Alfino at Gonzaga University. Click here for the course web page.

Study Questions

Study Questions for Happiness

Mindfulness Meditation Exercise


This page gathers links, articles, and ideas on the mindfulness exercise I'm working on writing for student use in Philosophy 419, Happiness, Spring 2007 semester, Gonzaga University.

[NPR Story on Insight Meditation]

The Initial Exercise

If you are thinking about doing the mindfulness exercises for the Happiness Class, this is the place to start.  First, listen to the [NPR story] on mindfulness meditation.  As that story suggests, many people exploring this topic are looking for evidence of the difference that meditation makes in a person's sense of well-being.  As good philosophical skeptics, we have to be open to the possibility that meditation might make people feel good without really correlating with any measureable aspect of well-being, attentiveness, or other improvement in well-being or cognitive/emotional function.  But to make your own assessment, you should both read about the topic and have some experiences of meditation.  Some of the beneficial effects of meditation can be experienced by first time or novice meditators, but you will need to make at least a short term habit of meditating for several weeks in order to get enough experience with it to assess its value to you.

First Mindfulness Exercise:  Using a focus on breathing to enhance present-mindedness

Find a quiet room or visit the student chapel to find a setting for your first meditation.  Pick a time of day when you are not too tired or hungry and when you do not have to rush to an appointment immediately after meditating.  If you are very tired when you meditate, you might fall asleep!  If you have to go to class or some other appointment immediately after meditating, you might be distracted by the future event and not relax during your mediation. 

Sit upright in a comfortable position, either on a chair or the floor.  If you are sitting on the floor, you may want to support your back against a way.    Initially, you should settle your body into the sitting posture, making yourself comfortable.  Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing.  Take normal breaths.  You might want to selectively contract and relax muscles in different parts of your body, working up from your feet.  Take your time with each muscle group.  In succession, tighten and relax the muscles in your feet, your lower legs, your thighs, your buttocks and abdomen, your chest, arms, neck, face and head.  Stretch your neck to relax it.  This should take a few minutes.  Don't rush it.  Once you are quietly aware of your body as a result of this exercise, return your attention to your breathing. 

Many thoughts will occur to you to distract you from your attention to your breathing.  Within a minute or so you will probably find yourself thinking about something that you need to do or something that is coming up in your life.  You'll remember that you have to get groceries, finish a paper, call someone, etc.  Acknowledge that you are thinking about these things and then make a conscious choice to turn your attention back to your breathing and your body. Be prepared for your mind to periodically take you away from your breathing and back to your affairs, worries, hopes, and chores.  If something keeps intruding (like an appointment that you keep remembering that you need to make or a task that you suddenly remember, you might need to open your eyes and find some paper to write it down, but that's to be avoided since you have to get resettled. 

The goal of focusing on breathing is to quiet the mind.  The mind can be like a "chattering monkey," distracting you from our own experience and elevating your anxiety with a steady stream of thoughts about various things you need to do in your life, especially in the next few days.  Becoming more mindful involves becoming self-aware of the contents of our mind that distract us from engagement in the present.   Mindfulness meditaion is not about ignoring the future by any means, but its advocates claim that you will benefit from approaching the future with a calm and orderly mind.

I recommend that you make meditations daily for this assignment, if you can, but at least 3-4 times a week. Hold to a minimum of about 20 minutes, and try to develop a rhythm around a 30-50 minutes. For this assignment you should commit to about 3 weeks of meditation, longer if you like it.

Variations in Meditation

You can explore variations of many kinds in your meditations. In some meditations, you can focus on your body, in others you can focus on mental states. There are Audio meditations you can use from the UCLA site for varying the focus of your meditation. Like yoga poses, as you learn a new focus for a meditation, you can repeat that focus at your own choice in your own experience. I encourage you to try a compassion building meditation at some point, but there's no rush.

Other Resources

I encourage you to explore a variety of resources about mindfulness as you are having the experiential learning of actually meditating. These resources are good for students who want to do formal writing about these exercises.

Exploring Buddhist exercises and thought

Google "pratical vipassana exercises" to get 60 page pdf, "Practical Vipassana Exercises," Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw.  This text form the Buddha Dharma Education Association might requrie some discusssion, but it's very clear.

Check out this wiki article: [">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theravada#Philosophy Theraveda Philosophy]

A Yoga and Meditation Combination: Savasana

Thanks to Lisa L. for Media:YogaMeditation0001.pdf on Savasana. Try it!

Mindfulness research centers

U. Mass Medical Center has a famous mindfulness meditation research program:[">http://www.umassmed.edu/CFM/Vision/index.asp Click Here!]

UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior: http://www.marc.ucla.edu

Recent Search

Here's are some [selected articles] from a recent search I did (PscyInfo and Newspaper Index "mindfulness") using Foley databases. Try your own!!

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I'll be working on this topic for the "savoring exercise" I'd like to write. If anyone wants to follow some of the research, feel free. From the first search, I've settled on the following book by Savoring research pioneers Fred Bryant & Joseph Veroff. Here's the bibliography record from the database:

Title: Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Author(s): Bryant, Fred B., Loyola University, Chicago, IL, US

Veroff, Joseph, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, US Source: Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 2007. xv, 278 pp. ISBN: 0-8058-5119-4 (hardcover)

0-80585120-8 (paperback) Language: English Keywords: savoring; positive experience; life; positive psychology; emotion; motivation Abstract: (from the cover) This book is about savoring life--the capacity to attend to the joys, pleasures, and other positive feelings that we experience in our lives. The authors enhance our understanding of what savoring is and the conditions under which it occurs. Sarvoring provides a new theoretical model for conceptualizing and understanding the psychology of enjoyment and the processes through which people manage positive emotions. The authors review their quantitative research on savoring, as well as the research of others, and provide measurement instruments with scoring instructions for assessing and studying savoring. Authors Bryant and Veroff outline the necessary preconditions that must exist for savoring to occur and distinguish savoring from related concepts such as coping, pleasure, positive affect, emotional intelligence, flow, and meditation. The book's lifespan perspective includes a conceptual analysis of the role of time in savoring. Savoring is also considered in relation to human concerns, such as love, friendship, physical and mental health, creativity, and spirituality. Strategies and hands-on exercises that people can use to enhance savoring in their lives are provided, along with a review of factors that enhance savoring. Savoring is intended for researchers, students, and practitioners interested in positive psychology from the fields of social, clinical, health, and personality psychology and related disciplines. The book may serve as a supplemental text in courses on positive psychology, emotion and motivation, and other related topics. The chapters on enhancing savoring will be especially attractive to clinicians and counselors interested in intervention strategies for positive psychological adjustment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved) Subjects: *Life Experiences; *Pleasure; *Positive Psychology; *Positivism; *Well Being; Emotions; Motivation Classification: Personality Psychology (3100) Population: Human (10) Intended Audience: Psychology: Professional & Research (PS) Publication Type: Book, Authored Book; Print Release Date: 20061226 Accession Number: 2006-11872-000 Number of Citations in Source: 466

Persistent link to this record



For the exercise on gratitude, I'm working from The Psychology of Gratitude by Emmons and McCullough, two researchers who got alot of attention for their work on gratitude and SWB

Alfino 16:08, 5 March 2007 (PST)

The Movie List

Here's our movie list, which is useful for movie reflection papers, or just for a slow Thursday or Saturday night. (You might invite some of your classmates over.  Ask them to bring popcorn.) I'm not sure all of these will work for an individual paper, but I'll make notes about the ones I know about. Please look at the assignment description for advice on how to do a movie reflection paper. Feel free to add your thoughts on these movies or suggest others.

The first nine are solid.  Add your own suggestions and we'll talk:

  1. The Pusuit of Happyness
  2. 13 Conversations about One Thing - Should almost be required viewing.
  3. Amelie - Excellent at capturing the subtlety of a form of state-happiness that is often overlooked.
  4. American Beauty - Good for both cultural critique of forms of American happiness and for state-happiness.
  5. About Schmidt - Excellent for issues of meaningfulness.
  6. Life is Beautiful - Raises profound questions about how we respond to evil in maintaining happiness.
  7. Groundhog Day - Makes a philosophically interesting case for perfectionism and happiness.
  8. 21 grams
  9. Broken Flowers

I'm not sure that next ones will work, even though some of them are really good movies:

  1. I Heart Huckabees - Ok, but a bit more about the fun of thinking about big philosophical issues.
  2. The Waking Life
  3. Lost Horizon
  4. The Family Man
  5. City Slickers
  6. It's a Wonderful Life - a classic with a good message, but let's skip it, ok?
  7. Office Space - This is a funny and somewhat insightful movie, but let's not use it for a whole movie reflection paper since it isn't as serious or complex as many others. Combine it, perhaps, or use details from it in other papers. Definitely worth watching for this class