The course is only in its second semester at IU but has already nearly doubled in size and will grow even more next semester, Wong said.
The class is part of the minor in counseling and explores topics such as what it means to be happy, how to be happier, how to live a meaningful life, positive relationships and character strengths, Wong said.
“It’s the science of what’s good and right about people,” he said.
Wong said there is an oversaturation of self-help books covering the same topics as his course but said the difference is that his class teaches about the body of scientific research behind the concepts.
“That’s how we distinguish ourselves from Oprah and Dr. Phil,” he said.
Wong, who developed the syllabus for the course, initially became interested in the topic because of his own research about gratitude and improving mental health outcomes among mental health clients, but his interest grew into a passion for the topic.
“I started reading the ?scientific literature on my own and found it personally useful in my life and marriage,” he said.
Wong said he also drew lessons from a similar course at Harvard University, where the course is among the most popular of all offerings.
The course at IU is taught in the School of Education, but Wong said the course has no prerequisites and that the majority of the students in the class are not education majors.
Wong said he hopes to extend the reach of the course even further through TED talk-style online lectures.
“It’s about sharing the gospel of positive psychology with as many people as possible,” he said.
Until IU develops the infrastructure to support Wong’s online dreams, he said he is satisfied with all the former students who have told him the course has changed their lives.
One student who said she learned major life lessons from the class is Nancy Goodrich, who said she took the class because she was interested in psychology but did not know much about the positive psychology ?sub-field.
Goodrich said the class was interactive — with group discussions and role plays — and interesting especially because the lessons were directly applicable to the students’ lives.
Goodrich said the biggest lesson she took from the class is that happiness can be attained by practicing gratitude and increasing variety in life.
“Instead of focusing on what we want or don’t have, we should be thankful for what we do have and strive for new experiences,” she said.
Unlike Goodrich, Bethany Sammons, another former student in Wong’s class, was already interested in positive psychology and said she took the class to learn more about its practice.
“I like the idea of taking a more humanistic approach to therapy,” Sammons said, adding that she appreciates how positive psychology therapy focuses on a patient’s strengths instead of their weaknesses.
Sammons said her favorite part of the class was Wong’s counseling knowledge and his personal experiences that he shared with the class.
“Stories from his experiences brought the course to life for me,” she said.
Sammons said class activities, including complimentary letters to secret buddies, taught her that bringing others up is one of the key components to ?happiness.
“I won’t give the secret away,” she said. “But, if you take Professor Wong’s class, you can find the key to happiness, too.”
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