Taking the course was an impulse decision, and like most impulse decisions not a wise one. After two-plus years of Covid restrictions I wanted to do something different, something I could talk about besides the weather and the latest Netflix distractions.
The course did provide a conversation topic, but the readings, tests and video lectures took a great deal of time, which made me unhappy.
The good news was that I could move through the course at my own pace. Wanting to end my suffering quickly, I plowed through the lectures and assignments as fast as I could.
The bad news was that since each of the first five weeks had a requirement to complete a specific daily activity, by collapsing my efforts into fewer weeks, I was also adding more activities to each day.
Take note: Per the research on happiness, the following actions are the key. Savoring experiences; keeping a gratitude log; making social connections, including with strangers; performing random acts of kindness; meditating; and exercising.
Because I was speeding ahead and collapsing the weeks, all the daily assignments came together between weeks two and three and my life became very complicated.
My week four assignment was simply, Do everything every day.
And then there were the unit tests. As soon as one clicked Take Test, a box appeared on the screen with a message like this: Fifty-one percent of those who completed this test failed the first time. Underneath this box, another box appeared asking, “Did this help? Yes or No.” You can guess my answer.
The best day came at the end of the week six, the course’s, not mine. I’d finished all the lectures, exams, and assignments, and for the next four weeks, I had to choose one of the strategies for increasing happiness, set a goal, and attempt to achieve it.
With the end of the lectures and tests, relief poured over me. I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. My goal — meditate every day — was easy.
My happiness lasted until I received an email advising me to do the assignment for week seven. Following that, there was an assignment for other weeks ahead.
The first was to enter a discussion forum with other students and ask a question. Since the last time someone asked a question about meditation was 2018, I didn’t expect a flurry of responses, and was happy not to receive any.
The final piece of homework was to write an essay in response to specific questions about progress toward my goal, strategies I used, and results. This assignment had two parts, the second being to interact with at least three other students by rating their responses to the same questions I’d answered. But after completing my three, the ratings requests kept coming. One man begged, “I’ll rate yours if you rate mine.” I did his and kept going until I tired at ten ratings. Where was the Teaching Assistant this course needed?
A day later, I received an email saying one person had rated my essay: 6.5 out of 7 points.
I returned to the course website to be greeted by a box outlined on the screen: Congratulations. You finished the course. No gold stars? No grade? No handshakes. No diploma? While the words on the screen were a bit anticlimactic, I’m very happy I’ve finished this course.