Student Interview

Human Ecology 201: The “Science of Human Happiness” Class

We spoke with three students who had recently taken EcoYou to learn more about their experiences and what the class had meant to them. Here is the full interview.


So “EcoYou” actually has a pretty long name, formally. It’s Belonging, Purpose, and the Ecology of Human Happiness. “EcoYou” is the short name. If you were talking to a friend who was thinking about taking this class but wasn’t quite sure what it was, how would you explain it to that person?

JERRY: Well, I would tell them that if they don’t really know themselves, then they should definitely take the class because it helped me figure out a lot in my life. I’d never actually much thought into my own self, so it was very eye-opening to get to know myself so much better.

RACHEL: Yeah, I would say that it’s an over-arching class that talks about the psychology of a happy mindset, and that it really made me think about what I want to do with my life. Also, it’s a really good transition for going from high school to a college lecture hall. It was very supportive, with everybody talking about what we felt and what we were going through.

YERITZA: I agree with both of them, and also I feel like it covered a lot of important topics, such as stress, gratitude, social life on campus and conscious consumerism. In every lecture, there was something that I took away from it that I was always able to apply to my own life.

I’m also curious about how you learned about the class and what made you interested. So Yeritza, you said you’re pre-pharmacy. What was it about this class that made you think,“That’s really something I should put some time into”?

YERITZA: I’ve always been interested in understanding others and the whole concept of happiness. So this was a chance to see, “Oh, what makes people happy?” I was just really interested in knowing the psychology behind it and learning about what other people experienced.

Jerry, you’re in computer science. It seems like a bit more of a stretch for you. What made this an appealing class for you?

JERRY: To be honest, it was a General Ed requirement that I needed to fill, and EcoYou was a very eye-popping class that I really wanted to take. It was like what Yeritza said – I wanted to figure out what made other people happy, what is happiness, and learn more about psychology and human ecology.

Rachel, was there something in particular about the course description or something you heard that made you want to take the class?

RACHEL: We were all in a First-Year Interest Group about the Ecology of Human Happiness, and this was our main class. I chose this specifically because I was just really interested in the course description for a class where you’re going to learn about happiness. That’s not like your usual General Ed class. It’s not like chemistry or labs, but it was just as helpful, if not more.

Got it. So looking back on your experience, was there anything in particular – lessons or concepts covered – that you would say might be the top one or two that really stand out for you?

RACHEL: I really liked the lesson where Professor Whelan talked to us about resilience and shared her own stories. I think that’s probably my favorite lecture in my time at Madison so far. She was so personal, and she showed her own side of the story but also did it in a way that we could relate to it and see how we could use her lessons in our own lives in the future.

YERITZA: I was definitely thinking the same thing. The whole idea of resilience is something that had I had never thought of in that way before. It was very interesting, and the topic was explained in a way that was easy to apply to my own life. I also really liked the whole idea of how the different types of spending that you do can actually change how you feel. That was also something that I’d never thought about before.

When you say different kinds of spending, can you give me an example of what was covered in class?

YERITZA: We talked about pro-social spending, which is basically spending on other people rather than on yourself. And that really was eye-opening because I never thought of it that way until she explained it. Especially being on campus, we’re always buying things, and we rarely ever think about spending on others since we’re on such a tight budget.

RACHEL:  Yeah, we learned about how spending money on experiences makes us more happy than just spending money on ourselves, and that we actually are happier when we spend our money on other people. So, for example, if we we’re given $5.00, we would be happier going to get coffee with somebody than just adding that to our daily spending, buying a bag of chips or something.

Jerry, what were some of the standout concepts or lessons covered in class for you?

JERRY: It’s probably mindfulness and the idea of being aware of the people and thoughts around you and paying attention to your surroundings and emotions. I feel like I can definitely apply that in my life now. I know I’m a lot better at picking up on small details and just reading myself. I’m better at spending time on myself, too.

One of the goals of the course is to give you tools that you can apply beyond the class. Can you tell me a little bit about how you brought mindfulness into your life?

JERRY: For example, just taking ten or 15 minutes out of the day to focus on myself and check in on my thoughts and what I’m doing. I also try to take notice of my surroundings everywhere I go, noticing small details, reading people’s emotions a lot better. It just makes life more enjoyable, and it’s something I can apply anywhere I go.

Rachel, Yeritza, you both mentioned the concept of resilience. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you learned there and how it’s affected your life since the class?

RACHEL: So when something happens in your life that you cannot control, we all need resilience. We were given different tips on how to cope with situations that we don’t want to happen in the future but that we can’t control. And Professor Whelan told us about how people in your life can make a difference, that it helps to talk about how you feel and share your experiences, and that you should actually go out and get help if you do need it.

YERITZA: Yeah, I learned that when you’re put down or when you’re feeling low, the only way to go is up, and you can’t let situations like those keep you at the bottom. So I just found it very interesting how others can make a huge impact on coping and dealing with resilience, and even where you live can affect that, in terms of what resources are available to you.

So as a closing thought, we’ve just come through a pretty contentious election cycle. And there’s still a lot of unrest and uncertainty in the country today. Is there anything that you learned in this class that you think as a society we need to hear or think about, especially in these times?

YERITZA: We learned about implicit bias and how we, as a society, tend to judge people based on their race or where they come from without really knowing who they are. It goes back to the whole idea of not knowing what resources are available to others and not working to having a better understanding of where a person comes from.

JERRY: I think she just covered it with implicit bias. I think everybody should at least get more information about that and learn more about that concept. We shouldn’t judge people on their race or just on appearance or anything like that without getting to know them. I feel like America could use that right now.

Rachel, implicit bias? Anything else?

RACHEL: Adding onto that, we learned that we do have control over what we want for ourselves and the life that we want to live. And that physical violence or any sort of violence isn’t going to solve anything, but when people get together and share how they feel and get over their implicit bias, I think that’s how people can bring change to society.

It sounds like the class covered an amazing amount of ground, and I think you’ve all done a great job of helping me and helping others understand what it’s really about. Thank you again for your time today!