INTRODUCTION:  I see many students who don’t understand the relationship between their choices and their happiness in life.  They make many decisions, sometimes daily, that negatively affect their lives, such as choosing the wrong class, not registering on time, not doing homework, and missing classes. That’s why in my Career Planning course, I have always taught a traditional decision making model to help students make effective career choices. After attending the On Course I Workshop, I decided to introduce my students to the powerful Wise Choice Process that we learned there. I also wanted to motivate them to use such a process even after the course was over.  I also came across an article that I thought would make a great connection between happiness and choices so I decided to use it as a motivating prompt.

PURPOSE: 

  • To motivate students to use a decision-making model in making career and other life choices.
  • To teach students how to use a powerful decision-making model

SUPPLIES/SET-UP:

  • Article entitled “The Simple Truth About Happiness” (Appended below in Resources)
  • The Wise Choice Process from the On Course Workshop/textbook or another decision-making model

DIRECTIONS: 

1. For homework, ask students to read the article titled “The Simple Truth About Happiness” and underline or highlight any statements with which they agree or disagree.

2. Back in class, divide the students into groups of 6-7 students and ask them to discuss the following three questions regarding the article they have read.

  • What are the author’s main points?
  • Do you agree/disagree with the author?  Why?
  • What did you learn from reading these articles?

3.  After groups have completed their discussions, ask a spokesperson in each group to summarize for the class what group members discussed for each question.

4. Prompt a class discussion with the following question: What is the relationship between happiness and good choices? Encourage students to provide personal examples wherever possible.

5. Ask a volunteer to read aloud the six steps of the Wise Choice Process (or another decision making model). Illustrate with an example of how the Process might be used and clarify any questions students may have about implementing it. I also explained to them how making wise choices, especially in career planning, can help them feel less overwhelmed. 

6.  For homework, have students use the Wise Choice Process (or your decision-making model) to reach a decision they would like to make, writing out each step as they apply the process to their particular decision.  At the next class, I collected students’ writing to review. Most of the comments I wrote to them involved their application of the decision-making process (rather than their particular decisions).

OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES:

After doing this activity with my class, I asked students to provide me with written, anonymous feedback by answering the following questions: 1) Do you think the decision making process is a good one? 2) How did you feel about using it? 3) Would you use it again? The feedback from all of my students was positive. Here are some of the comments they offered about using the Wise-Choice Process:

  • It lets you see what really are your choices.  What choices you’re going to take.  It feels like you really have to be committed.
  • I found the process to be very helpful.  I would definitely use it again for other decisions I’m struggling with.  That was actually my first thought as soon as I finished the assignment.  I also felt that since I had to come up with some choices, and solutions, and that I could commit that it’s going to help accomplish my goals.
  • I like it because sometimes you are stuck with something and ideas don’t come out of your head that easy when you are unhappy, and this material gave me a lot of ideas.
  • I thought the process was helpful because I got to look at what I needed to focus on and commit to.  It made things cut and dry in a sense.  It cleared up a little bit of ambiguity on my part.

When reviewing the assignments, I did notice one important part of the decision-making process that they didn’t all grasp. They had difficulty listing separately their possible choices and the likely outcomes of each choice. Because some lumped them into a paragraph, I think their thought process was clouded. I also found that some students came up with choices that seemed to have nothing to do with the problem, at least as they explained it.  For example, one student was debating whether to stay in school and work less or stay in school and not work at all, and one choice she came up with was to have another baby. 

LESSONS LEARNED:  

The Wise Choice Process can be a powerful decision-making tool, and students see it as a logical way to reach a decision. I think that first demonstrating the relationship between choices and happiness was an important hook for the students.  It is important to work through an example of using the process so students see how to apply it to their own lives.  I found it helpful to present this skill towards the end of the course because that is when students often get overwhelmed with the career assessment information they have gathered in the course and need a method to sort it out.

RESOURCES: 

ARTICLE: THE SIMPLE TRUTH ABOUT HAPPINESS by Bethany A. Marshall, M.F.C.C. (Reprinted with permission of the author)

Axiom No. 1: Happiness is possessing the strength of character to make good choices

Imagine for a moment that you are watching a film. The events in the film are your future life, and the main character is you. From the vantage point of the observer, you watch as your life unfolds. You observe the successes and failures of your career. You watch as your relationships deepen, mature, and change. You are able to see from a bird’s-eye perspective the events that will influence and shape your life. You watch romances, unions, deaths, graduations—the ceremonies of a life fully lived.

Now imagine that you discover that your life will be a happy one. To what would you attribute the joy and happiness of your future life? Would you walk away from the Movie Theater and say, “Life is going to deal me a pretty good hand”? Or would you reflect on the events that transpire and say, “I’m glad I know how to choose well”?

If you are of the former mind-set (life dealt me a pretty good hand), then you have not yet learned the simple truth about happiness. If you said, “I’m glad I chose well,” then you are well on your way to understanding the secret of joyful living.

Developing a philosophy about happiness is important. Indeed, one of the most common questions I face in my psychotherapy practice is “How can I find happiness?” Of course, the question is rarely asked directly. It usually surfaces in the form of statements such as “I wish I felt good today.” “Why am I so depressed?” “I want that feeling of joy in my life again…” “I want to be a bubbly, charismatic person.”

Throughout my years of clinical work, I have made the observation that people who struggle unsuccessfully with happiness adhere to the philosophy that happiness will magically come to them. They hope to possess happiness—much as one would buy or possess a valuable item. Or they wait for outside circumstance to bestow happiness upon them. “If I won the lottery, I know I’d be happy” or “If I just had the right relationship, I just know I’d be happy and content for the rest of my life!”

Although the popular saying “Happiness is a choice” may be appealing, it is really a distortion of the following simple truth: “Happiness is possessing the strength of character to make good choices.”

This simple truth means that happiness is a by-product, and not a commodity that can be possessed or bought. The simple act of making good choices, one at a time, is the only way that happiness can naturally be obtained. These choices can be as simple as standing up for oneself, or as complex as learning to think for oneself or preparing for the future. Even the smallest of choices have the power to exert a great influence on our lives. I like to think of choices as being like the rudder on a very large ship. Despite the disproportionately small size of the rudder in comparison to the larger vessel, even a small shift can greatly alter the ship’s course.

For instance, the moment an individual puts on a condom during sex he is potentially altering the course of his life. Making the choice to use this small prophylactic may determine whether the final years of his life are spent in convalescence or in happy retirement. And the moment one decides to abandon a destructive environment or relationship, he is potentially influencing whether his future years will be lived in a depressed or emotionally fulfilled state of mind.

In order to live a happy life, one must set his course and learn to value the impact of smaller choices along the way. Setting a course means being able to focus on one’s ultimate destination, despite temporary fluctuations and setbacks.

Do you want to be financially successful? Healthy? Loved? In love? What small choices may determine the long-term course that you have set? Learning to think for yourself? Learning to say “no”? Obtaining an education? Practicing safer sex? Investing emotionally in those who are important to you? Seeking sound advice? Learning to separate from the inequities of youth or the collective prejudices of society?

Many of my patients enter psychotherapy with the hope that they will quickly find one simple clue or answer that will immediately bring happiness into their lives. What they eventually come to realize is that happiness is the by-product of good choices made daily, rather than a quick fix.  

–Chuck Ward, Counselor, Pasadena City College (CA)

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