In the pursuit of happiness
Northern Arizona University psychology professor
Heidi Wayment has discovered the secret to happiness, and it’s not as
complicated as one might think. The key to personal fulfillment and positive
societal change – as Wayment and many researchers are documenting – lies in
minimizing self-interest, and being compassionate to those around us.
Wayment explains that while this way of thinking
can apply to anyone, students may especially benefit from adopting this
philosophy during their transitional years to adulthood. She says that many first-year
students, specifically, have a difficult time adjusting to university life
because of the amount of time they spend focused on themselves and their needs.
“Because of Facebook, and because of our ties
with distant people, we’re prevented from being here,” Wayment says. “College
is supposed to be a culture shock – people aren’t experiencing that to its
fullest because they have all of their friends who they can talk to, twenty
times a day.”
The methods people use to find happiness is a
subject Wayment has been researching for more than two decades. She gained
attention for her work on compassion toward others when she held the “Quiet
Ego” conference at the university in 2005. In 2008, she published a book, Transcending Self-Interest: Psychological
Explorations of the Quiet Ego, which dealt with the subject of finding
happiness through giving up selfish behaviors.
does not mince words about what she identifies as the effects of selfishness on
for one’s self, and engaging in narcissistic behaviors, is a source of lower
self-esteem and lower self-worth,” Wayment says. “People really do feel better
about themselves when they’re a part of something bigger.”
explains that while our society is geared toward self-interested behaviors,
particular events – such as the September 11 terrorist attacks – can alter the
way people perceive themselves in relation to others.
“In an event like September 11, instead
of causing some of those personal defenses to come back in an even stronger
way, people let down their guard,” Wayment says. “They were distressed, and in
their distress, they became really connected to those around them. That feeling
of connectedness was the silver lining in a really horrible thing. So, we
started asking the question: are there people who can do that all the time? To
take a tragedy and say, ‘you know, I am a part of a bigger something else?’”
The idea of interconnected behavior is the
philosophy behind every class Wayment instructs at Northern Arizona University.
She explains that her research eventually led her to believe that everyone has
the capability to transcend self-interested behaviors and consider others.
“I think all
people have the ability to feel this way,” Wayment says. “Sometimes, it gets
lost in the chaos and demands of everyday life.”
this is the demonstration of a “quiet ego,” and it consists of living without
“I’ve been doing some
research on trying to measure this set of characteristics that I call ‘a quiet
ego,’” Wayment says. “It really consists of the motivation to become a better
person, meaning not better in terms of wealth, but in terms of personal growth.
The ability to be in the present moment without judgment and without trying to
filter the experience through your own expectations is called ‘mindfulness.’”
a class, “Conservation
Psychology: Psychology for a Sustainable Future,” that deals with this precise
line of thought, but that is not where her positive-thinking campaign ends. She
helps host Hot Topics Café meetings, where students and
faculty can civilly discuss controversial subjects without fear of prejudice or
real skill to being able to see where another person is coming from,” Wayment says.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t have your own opinion, or disagree with
someone, but try to understand how a person comes to that opinion.”