NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

Captivating Course: Happiness and the Good Life 

Photo from Pixabay

Dr. Neel Khichi, Senior University Lecturer in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, was inspired by Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale University, to teach a senior seminar class about happiness at NJIT. Santos’s website states that she is an expert on the science of happiness and the ways in which our minds lie to us about what makes us happy.  

Khichi read about Santos and “The Happiness Lab,” her podcast that shares stories that change the way people think about happiness, leading him to teach a related course called “Happiness and the Good Life” based on his own expertise.  

“Dr. Santos is a cognitive psychologist, so her focus primarily addresses the science behind our mental and emotional state, which I found super interesting,” Khichi said. “With my background in sociology, social sciences, and education, I’ve taken an approach of trying to understand the individual as a whole as far as their background, their family, their environment, their education, their emotional dynamic, politics, culture, religion, race — how those elements contribute to our understanding of happiness and creating a life that we want for ourselves.” 

He acknowledged that part of the human journey is deriving inspiration from people we already know who may have more experience in the fields we are considering. He was interested in what Santos discussed in her podcast and classes, and thought this would be a course from which NJIT students could benefit. 

“My skill and expertise aren’t so much in the natural sciences as much as they are in the social sciences,” he explained. “That’s why I feel pretty comfortable and confident teaching this version of the course because I use a sociological, social, psychological, and educational perspective when addressing issues around ‘happiness.’” 

As with any of his courses, Khichi presents an outline of what’s going to be covered in the course at the beginning of the semester. Therefore, the course provides lots of leeway for growth in each individual student. He finds the whole course methodology insightful each semester, as he has almost an entirely different group of students each time.  

“I am currently teaching three sections of this course to seniors,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see the different perspectives, responses, and overall classroom atmosphere that each separate class has, even though we’re covering the same material.” 

In every semester he teaches this course, he begins the class by clarifying that this course is not meant to make the students happy by the end of it. He ensures every student has the ‘out’ option in case that’s what they were expecting. Khichi also makes sure to say that he is not an expert on happiness himself; rather, he can help students explore what makes them happy. 

“I said, ‘Hopefully, you don’t leave this class, like, more miserable than you were, but if you do, it’s probably because the course forces you to rethink and reevaluate choices and decisions that you’ve made and expectations of yourself for the future,’” Khichi explained. “Hopefully, it provided some clarity to further move the individual student along and to provide them the emotional mental fortitude and awareness to create the kind of life that they want for themselves.” 

He knows not everyone in the class is completely interested in the content, but at least three quarters of the students are focused, attentive, curious, and inquisitive as they attempt to address basic human existence, experience, and journeys.  

“Adults my age, 20-somethings, 30-somethings — as human beings — we have an inner conflict going on of what is expected of us, be it familiarly, socially, culturally, versus what we really want to do,” he said. “I’m not telling them what is right or what is wrong, but what I am going to lay out are the various doors that we can walk through. Which one are they going to walk through based on what they want to do and how they’re feeling and what their expectations are for themself?” 

Fourth-year computer engineering major Mark Volosov is a current student in the class. The most important concept he learned from Khichi is the concept of active positivity. “The idea that even if you’re feeling upset or depressed, you should do your best to force yourself to feel happiness. He gave us an example of his daughters — how he ensures that his daughters walk down the stairs with a smile, so that they start their day off in a positive mood.” 

The concept resonated with Volosov because when he was younger, he would act moody and upset, which never improved the condition of his situation. “Now I don’t find myself acting in this way anymore. I may not always have a smile on my face, but I am always thinking positive,” he said. 

Khichi is glad to be able to hear these perspectives in his classes; he enjoys being able to provide some insight from his 44 years of being alive to help students who are on the cusp of the next journeys of their lives.  

“Part of the reason — if not the reason — that I pursued a career in education when I graduated was to, in some way, shape, or form, contribute to the betterment of society,” he said. “As a senior seminar, I feel that this course is a parting gift to seniors that hopefully provides them with perspective, guidance, or advice as they step into the non-academic world.” 

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Vector

Your donation will support the student journalists of New Jersey Institute of Technology. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Yukthi Sangoi, Editor-in-Chief
Donate to The Vector

Comments (0)

All The Vector Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *