Louise Prochaska is a recently retired professor of theology and Women’s Studies at Notre Dame College in Cleveland, OH. She earned a master’s degree in English from Indiana University and a doctoral degree in moral theology from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. Her professional focus has been teaching theology, New Testament, world religions, and social issues at the undergraduate level. On a personal level, Louise finds joy in creating art pieces using a variety of media, cooking for family and friends, savoring the spiritual and cultural riches in foreign lands, volunteering, and finally, meditating in her garden.
What started my dedication to promoting happiness? In 2017, I heard a brief report on PBS that Dr. Laurie Santos, psychology professor at Yale, began offering a course “Psychology of the Good Life.” In first semester she had 1,200 students. Dr. Santos taught them that mindfulness, gratitude, generosity, a good night’s sleep, and building personal friendships without social media all have been proven to promote a deep sense of inner well-being. She also taught them what does not promote happiness, such as money, beauty, or even the highest grades.
I decided to build a similar course for Notre Dame College, making it my own in two ways. First, I enriched every practice with religious wisdom from various traditions; and second, I included practices from my own field of Catholic theology, such as forgiveness and dedication to one’s unique gift and life mission. I then read many research studies in positive psychology and devoured books by key psychologists like Martin Seligman and by spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama and Matthieu Ricard.
I taught the one-credit course in the spring of 2019, the first year of my retirement. I invited my colleagues at Notre Dame to sit in if they wished. A few of them did and encouraged me to make the small student text/workbook available to adults. “We all need these reminders and help to find happiness in our busy lives.” Then I realized that I was not meant to retire from teaching, but to change the focus of teaching, mentoring, and writing. And the new focus is health and happiness for a much wider circle of people.
The Ten Keys
These ten keys are supported by research in positive psychology, by neuroscience, and by practices found in all major religious traditions. The keys are not difficult and can be learned by children. The need is great because many people today live in a stressful, frenetic, and impersonal environment that works against health and happiness.
1. Live mindfully in the present moment
2. Care for one’s physical self: sleep, diet, exercise
3. Spread Kindness
4. Be grateful and express it often
5. Forgive and ask for forgiveness
6. Nurture Relationships with family and friends
7. Reduce screen time and replace social media with listening empathically
8. Find your unique gift and live for a purpose greater than yourself (life mission)
This is a key with several layers and needs more time than the others
9. Keep your thoughts, feelings and words positive
10. Experience the beauty around you