Can a class teach someone to be happier?

La Rhonda Harmon (right), a psychology intern at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, helps to lead a class called

La Rhonda Harmon (right), a psychology intern at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, helps to lead a class called "A Happier You," designed to help participants enhance their optimism, increase the frequency of positive emotions, and better manage negative emotions. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A new six-week program at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine isn’t therapy, but it helps students become more grateful and rooted in positive feelings.

Scott Glassman is the psychologist who created the program, called “A Happier You.” He co-directs the school’s master’s of counseling program.

The happiness class covers themes like accomplishments, personal strengths, gratitude, humor, and kindness.

Glassman says that focusing on positive aspects of life actually helps stimulate positive emotions.

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“You’re really not focusing on what’s wrong and pathology, but rather how can we accentuate the best that people are,” says Glassman. It’s all about strengthening what he calls a “happiness muscle.”

Glassman opens the class by asking about recent acts of kindness.

A student named DK answers. The course instructors did not want students to be identified by their last names.

“I was nice to six people this week,” he says.

“You’ve come a long way,” says another student.

“I have. I didn’t cuss at anybody. I haven’t used the F word in three weeks,” DK adds.

DK used to work as a bodyguard and driver for celebrities. He says the abuse his body took as a bodyguard led to chronic pain.

Beyond someone’s emotional well-being, there are physical health benefits to feeling happier, Glassman explains.

“The more people feel positive, [the] more positive emotions they experience, the more likely they are to have better heart rates and blood pressure,” he says.

DK says he used to find comfort only from waking up and taking his dog for a walk. Now, on those walks, he actually waves to neighbors.

“I’m more patient now than I have ever been,” reflects DK. “I listen more.”

After another student, Cheryl, had a massive stroke, her doctor recommended she try out the program. She lost both her husband and her best friend in quick succession, and found that friends often didn’t know what to say to her.

“If I’m under a stressful situation, they’ll just say, ‘Oh child, you know how to handle that, you’ll be OK,’” she says.

Glassman says that the class models acceptance and kindness, which creates a new way of relating to others.

“I think people like to … give advice that comes from a personal perspective oftentimes, which may not gel with what that person’s experience and troubles and struggles are,” Glassman says.

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