Shaw Wellness Center Hosts Brown Bag on “The Good Life”

Last Thursday, November 6, Professor of Psychology Dr. Rebecca Shiner presented a Brown Bag entitled “The Good Life: Findings from Current Psychological Research on Happiness” in the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) Conference Room. The Shaw Wellness Institute is responsible for organizing Brown Bag lunches to host professors who may have an interesting perspective on physical or mental wellness. In her talk, Dr. Shiner addressed findings from psychological sciences about what constitutes a good life and what factors promote happiness.

A total of 38 students, faculty and community members were in attendance during Dr. Shiner’s lecture. The lecture focused on the good life and what factors contribute most closely to individual happiness. The lecture discussed how significantly factors such as close relationships, meaningful religious faith, sleep, exercise and wealth impact happiness. These factors, along with a new concept of “flow,” which describes the achievement of deep engagement in a task that gives one an escape from the outside world while also providing a sense of control, were discussed at length. Dr. Shiner concluded the lecture by talking about how intentional everyday activities can change happiness levels.

“I am especially interested in research on the role of meaning in a well-lived life, as well as research on how best to handle the inevitable suffering that occurs in all of our lives. In addition, I am fascinated by why some cultures and nations offer their members a better shot at being happy and fulfilled than other cultures and nations do. For example, contrary to what one might expect, the people of Iceland tend to be unusually satisfied with their lives, and I think it is helpful for people from all cultures to have a better understanding of why,” Dr. Shiner said.

Dr. Shiner received her undergraduate degree from Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1990. She then got her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1998. Dr. Shiner specializes in personality, clinical psychology and child development and has co-authored the book Handbook of Temperament, which focuses on the current knowledge on temperament, from foundational theory and research to clinical applications. She has also published a number of scholarly research articles regarding personality disorders, cognitive ability, temperament in adults and children and adolescent depression. In 2012, Dr. Shiner was included in The Princeton Review’s “The 300 Best Professors.”

A variety of students attended the lecture.  Both the groups of students who worked in organizing the event and those that attended solely for pleasure seemed to enjoy the lecture.

 “I thought that Dr. Shiner really raised some essential points about happiness, and how it is such a social concept that cannot be truly achieved without the support of friends and family. I think that the most interesting point that I took away from the lecture was the fact that beyond $70,000 a year, happiness levels do not noticeably increase, which is contrary to what most people in the Colgate community would think,” Shaw Wellness Programming Intern senior Zack Silver said.

As an intern, Silver works to raise awareness for the Brown Bag events, help the speaker in any way and give the audience background context on the speaker before they present. Junior Kerri Santero was one student who attended the Brown Bag. 

“I haven’t been to many Shaw Wellness talks, but I think this lecture was really insightful because Dr. Shiner offered easy ways to increase happiness that you wouldn’t necessarily think about. She also spoke to a lot of issues college students face, like lack of sleep, disinterest in studies and general stress,” Santero said.  

Dr. Shiner gave advice to Colgate students to try to make themselves happier. 

“Based on psychological research, I would recommend 3 things: make time for genuine friendships, pursue academic work and extracurricular activities that you genuinely love (rather than those that look good to others) and prioritize your health and your sleep,” Dr. Shiner said.