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Life in Balance: Boise State students learn about happiness in sought-after class

In this class, students learn what happiness is, why it matters and how to increase their own happiness.

BOISE — A course on happiness at Boise State University is quickly becoming one of the most popular classes on campus, with students on waiting lists each semester.

"Welcome to class everyone. Get in a comfortable position, take a deep breath," Joel Vallett tells his students at Boise State.

Vallett teaches "The Art of Happiness" at Boise State's College of Innovation and Design. He begins each class with a mindfulness exercise.

"Close your eyes if you'd like to," a tape recording tells his students. "One more breathing deeply in through the nose."

Here, students learn what happiness is, why it matters and how to increase their own happiness.

"We talk about your mental habits of happiness and what you can do to take control of those to find greater happiness in your life," Vallett said.

If it sounds like an "easy A" for students, consider that Americans are feeling more unhappy now than they have in years. Unhappiness is higher than it was during the Great Recession of 2008 when money and financial worries were the leading reasons for unhappiness, according to The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

Today, it's emotional and psychological factors driving the rise of unhappiness, with people reporting that they feel discontent with their jobs and relationships.

That's no surprise to Vallett.

"That importance of connection. We're not doing that in our day and age," Vallet said. "We're finding that we don't have that same social connection. Those other countries that are succeeding, they have that connection. That's a more important cultural goal for them and something we struggle with here in the U.S."

Despite how easily connected people are online, one in 3 adults, 45 years and older, say they are lonely.

"Relationships are such an important part of happiness," Vallet said. "And being able to understand what we can do to improve those relationships with kindness and compassion."

Vallet teaches students ways to establish relationships. Homework includes applying mental habits of happiness to everyday life. Habits including compassion, service, forgiveness, mindfulness, gratitude, among others. Vallet says doing these activities every day will help create a pattern of happiness.

"Gratitude has such an impact on our life, not only neurologically where it literally changes the way our brain fires, but it helps us to change our perception and see things in a greater light and a greater excitement about our own life," Vallett said.

Students say this is one of their favorite classes on campus.

"That's the biggest thing I've taken from the class, is that whether or not your perspective is positive or negative that will affect how you react," junior Fallon Falore said. "And every situation can be turned around to be a positive situation or a learning experience."

Vallet says even the sequence of our happiness can make a difference.

"Right now, we delay happiness," Vallet said. "We say, 'Oh, I'll be happy when I finish my finals. I'll be happy when I get this grade. I'll be happy when I get my promotion. I'll be happy when I get this new position.' We continue to set these bars of happiness in the future and then guess what we do? We move happiness. We push away our happiness until, 'Oh I'm done until I've achieved my promotion,' but we shouldn't. Take advantages of the happiness now."

Students are also required to complete a service-learning project that ties in volunteer work students do throughout the semester. Students also work on a personally-driven project designed to help them achieve their definition of happiness and apply it to their lives.

"We as humans, we mimic each other. So if I have happiness and I smile at another individual, that's going to build, and that chain of happiness grows," Vallet said. "And that's something we want to see here at Boise State, that contagious of happiness going around the campus."