ALANA and Devin Hughes ’91 Host Event on Happiness


Paulina Prosnitz, Arts & Features

On Friday, Oct. 9, Class of ’91 alumnus Devin C. Hughes returned to campus via Zoom for the ALANA Cares event titled “A Happier U: New Habits to Enhance Performance & Well Being.” In attendance was a small group of both students and faculty, and with the moderators encouraging everyone to turn their cameras on, an intimate and interactive workshop ensued. 

Esther Rosbrook, Director of the ALANA Cultural Center, started things off with an introduction of Hughes. Hughes is the founder of Devin C. Hughes Inc., a firm whose purpose is to assist team leaders, startups and large organizations in enhancing their people strategy and reaching their full potential. In his 20 years of experience in conflict resolution and solving social differences, he has written 21 books and been invited to speak in more than 15 countries. Hughes Zoomed in from San Diego, where he lives with his wife, four daughters and two dogs. 

Hughes began the event by asking the group a simple question: “Is anyone here maxed out on joy?” The virtual room filled with bashful grins and shaking heads. Hughes spent the next hour describing in detail tactics for fostering and maintaining happiness — even in the darkest hours of a pandemic. Using the shared-screen feature, Hughes walked the audience through a slideshow of images, exercises and research results from happiness studies. 

The small group in attendance was instructed at the start of the slideshow to perform a virtual high five — what Hughes calls “the pandemic greeting.” Hughes proceeded to present a series of exercises centered around his approach of “happiness hygiene,’” an approach coined by Hughes to describe the daily practices and mentality shifts required to be happy. The first exercise was a fill-in-the-blank: “I am happiest at school when ___.” Participants responded with a variety of answers: being with friends, playing a sport, cooking, spending time with family, etc. Hughes made clear his purpose in providing these exercises. 

“My goal is not only to make you feel better, but to enable you to help other people too,” Hughes said.

Before continuing to the next slide, Hughes instructed the group to put on their “psychology hats,” he himself donning a black, furry top hat. In addition to exercises, Hughes’ presentation involved multiple slides dedicated to the facts and statistics behind positive psychology. One study on happiness found that if you have six or more close friends, you are 60 times more likely to be happy. 

The next concept Hughes introduced was Gratitude Deficit Disorder. Hughes’ proposed remedy to this issue is to state three gratitudes each day, in the format of one thing you are content with, one thing you are enthusiastic about and one thing you are thankful for. 

Another exercise that falls under Hughes’ umbrella of happiness hygiene is what he calls “Mission Possible.” 

“For the next few days, think of 20 people, and you’re going to send them a text or email.”

The purpose of “Mission Possible” is to practice intentionality in expressing gratitude towards people in your life. Hughes asked the participants to think about training the brain, through practices of positive psychology, to recognize the good in life.

Sophomore Yang Yang reflected on the event and the lessons put forward by Hughes. 

“The format of the discussion is really casual and engaging. Devin interacts with every student and faculty to make sure they are participating. When I grew up, I was told to go to college and get a job so I will be happy, but now I learned how to put my mental health before pursuing any success,” Yang said.

Hughes closed the event by saying the following: 

“Start small. One thing you’re grateful for. Layer it on. Information is not transformation. It’s about looking at your day and being intentional,” Hughes concluded, taking off his top hat.