Can you teach students to be happy and kind?

Kennesaw State University students in pursuit of happiness KENNESAW, Ga. (March 21, 2014) —…

Georgia (Mar 21, 2014)

Kennesaw State University students in pursuit of happiness

KENNESAW, Ga. (March 21, 2014) — When professors Hillary Steiner and Jeannie Beard combined their Psychology 1101 and English 1102 classes as part of a learning community for first-year students, they decided to integrate a “pursuit of happiness” theme with the coursework.

“Students entering college often have some apprehension about the transition,” said Steiner. “We thought teaching students about the concept of being happy might launch their college careers on a more positive note.”

A portion of the students’ assignments includes writing papers and posting content related to happiness on this learning community’s Facebook page. They must also post four brief summaries of their personal experiences performing “random acts of kindness” with the goal of increasing another person’s happiness.

Toward the end of the semester, Steiner said, students will have the opportunity to reflect upon the happiness project from start to finish and discuss how it personally impacted them. They’ll be asked to discuss whether this assignment made them uncomfortable and if it increased their own levels of happiness.

Kennesaw State University student Ryan Turnage is among the professors’ students already reflecting upon the lessons he has learned throughout this project. He said a major “aha” moment occurred for him while watching a video about happiness during class. He said that video highlighted a study that found making a lot of money does not guarantee happiness or success in life.

“That was my biggest mistake,” he said. “I’ve always felt that I wasn’t going to be happy until I made six figures, and that’s really not the case at all. A person making $50,000 or $150,000 can have the same level of happiness. What really matters is taking advantage of every situation you have and looking at the bright side of things if you can.”

Turnage has embraced the “random acts of kindness” assignment, going beyond the requirements to surprise his professors. He and classmate Avery Schueller led a class effort to raise money for the University’s food bank called “Feed the Future.” This program, managed by KSU Student Health Services at House 53, supports students struggling to pay for food. Turnage and his classmates raised about $100 and purchased items to help stock the pantry.

“We felt good donating the food and hope we helped make someone’s life a bit easier and perhaps happier,” he said.

Both professors said they have enjoyed watching how the students have integrated the “pursuit of happiness” theme into their work up to this point.

“I have noticed from their papers, random acts of kindness and conversations that they are looking at world through the lens of a happiness perspective, and that’s exactly what we hoped for,” said Beard. “I hope it serves them well during their university careers and beyond.”

Steiner said, “I think there’s a perception that college students are narcissistic and self-serving, and they will only do things that affect their grades. That’s just not the case. I’ve been really impressed with how our students have embraced this assignment and gone above and beyond in pursuit of making others happy.”

– Katherine Dorsett Bennett




Click here to watch video of student discussing "random acts of kindness."


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit