SPARTANBURG, S.C. – A group of Wofford College students and faculty are learning the secret to happiness during the college's January Interim. Even watching them enjoy the experience of learning strategies for gratitude, positivity and well-being is an exercise in happiness.
"I signed up for this Interim in hopes to become happier and healthier during the month of January," says Katie Jarrett, a junior finance major from Kingstree, S.C. "I thought it would be a great way to start out the new year, all while adopting healthy habits that I could bring into the spring semester."
According to Dr. Begona Caballero-Garcia, associate professor of modern languages, literatures and cultures and the college's new dean of diversity and inclusion, the group in the “Let’s Be Happier: Happiness, Nutrition and Exercise” class has read books, watched TED talks, met with experts in the field, taken a strengths quest, danced, done yoga and practiced meditation, among other activities. They have spent time in reflection, writing about what they're learning, and have considered people to whom they feel gratitude.
"Gratefulness leads to happiness," says Caballero-Garcia. "I mailed 25 thank you letters on Friday written by students during class to show gratitude to their friends, family and mentors."
Caballero-Garcia, who has taken students to Cuba, Peru, Spain, Vietnam and Cambodia during past Interims, developed the happiness Interim four years ago because she's passionate about and believes in the lifelong importance of happiness, nutrition and exercise.
"This Interim is about the importance of nutrition and fitness, but it is also about cultivating self-awareness, soft skills and empathy, which are key to successful leadership and cooperation," she says. "At the end of the Interim, students will have strategies for increasing their level of happiness."
In her first Wofford Interim, Dr. Carolyn Martsberger, assistant professor of physics, has embraced the experience and the opportunity to learn from fellow faculty and Wofford students. "We are all role models in this class. We learn from each other everyday," she says.
Martsberger explains that at the start of Interim, many students felt that achieving success — whether professionally or personally — is a large factor in achieving happiness. That thinking, however, can lead to disillusionment, disappointment and an unhealthy lifestyle. "We have all worked to flip that thinking," she says. "Instead, we are learning that happiness leads to success. Moreover, living in the past or the future often conflicts with happiness. In response to this, we've practiced techniques that allow us to be present and grateful for the moment."
Parks Schoen, a senior biology major from Simpsonville, S.C., has discovered just that. He says he also has come to value community, dance as a form of exercise and meditation. "I have learned how to deal with stress and how to wake up feeling grateful daily," he says. "Dr. Caballero-Garcia and Dr. Martsberger have been such a fun duo teaching the class. They balance each other out so well, and they bring so much energy to the classroom."
Jarrett says her favorite part of the course has been exercising with her classmates each day. "I can't wait to use the healthy habits that I have learned this month in the upcoming semester."
Interim, Wofford College's January term, frees students and faculty to spend the month focused on a single topic designed to expand the walls of the traditional classroom, explore new and untried topics, take academic risks, observe issues in action, develop capabilities for independent learning and consider different peoples, places and professional options. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Interim at Wofford.