The Sustainable Happiness Institute works to increase happiness throughout Lehigh’s campus.
The Sustainable Happiness course, which is offered during the winter semester, allows Lehigh students to find what the meaning of happiness is for them.
The institute allows students to define their own sense of happiness by pursuing innovations that target real-world issues.
Professors Khanjan Mehta and Bill Whitney developed the Sustainable Happiness Institute specifically because of the anxieties and general lack of happiness that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We used this (pandemic) as an opportunity to explore the science of happiness since there was a serious need for people to see what it means to be happy for themselves and for others,” Mehta said.
Noah Weaver, ’21, partook in this program last winter semester.
He said the program was a “breath of fresh air.”
“This was a great way to break free of the typical classroom environment style of learning,” Weaver said.
Weaver’s project was titled “Philly Food Navigators” and was designed to provide hunger relief to those who were food insecure in the Philadelphia area.
“I chose this project because there is a real need to tackle food insecurity,” Weaver said. “We need to figure out a way to give resources to those who need it most in a cost effective and timely manner.”
Weaver said he further benefited from the program by observing other people’s viewpoints on happiness and how the word can have different meanings to different people.
Georgia Kiriakou, ’23, also said she enjoyed her time in the program.
“This profound program bridged my major, passion and sustainable issues together,” Kiriakou said. “It showed me the importance of leading with passion and taught me how to become a social entrepreneur.”
Kiriakou’s project focused on the mental health of children with autism and their families.
Her project, called “Happily Ever Now,” was a journal that embedded research about what is used to increase happiness and how this can help people with autism reduce symptoms.
“I was inspired to choose this project because I am in a STEM-oriented major, come from a design background and am passionate about the sustainability of happiness in relation to mental and physical illnesses,” Kirakou said.
Kiriakou said she had a change in mentality after attending this program.
She said the program helped her stray away from the idea that having flaws is negative, but instead now feels they can open up opportunities for growth.
“I used to think that being vulnerable was a courageous trait of others, but a weak trait of mine,” Kiriakou said.
Mehta and Whitney both want their students to gain a better understanding of the true meaning behind the science of happiness through their projects.
“Ikigai means ‘one’s reason for being’ in Japanese and embodies the intersection between what someone loves, what they are good at, what the world needs and what they can be paid for, which is what we wanted our students to explore through this course,” Mehta said.
The institute encourages students to try new challenges every day, like writing a failure resume, which focuses on the students’ failures and how failure unites everyone together.
Mehta said it is not as much about skill set, but helping one’s mindset in taking intellectual risks and trying new things.
The institute requires students to go through an application process, which consists of a questionnaire and an interview.
“We want students who have a need for and ability to connect with others,” Whitney said. “We look for students who have a strong work ethic and come in with an open mind.”
While the institute was only available to students last winter, Mehta and Whitney are unsure as to whether the program will run the same way this upcoming winter semester.
Mehta said they want the institute integrated into the general Lehigh experience.