“The Psychology of Stoked” class explores science behind a mindful life

March 28, 2016, 1:29 a.m.

PSYC 60N: “The Psychology of Stoked,” a winter quarter course taught by associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science Shashank Joshi, offers students an opportunity to explore the new field of positive psychology and the true meaning of living a mindful life.

Throughout the course, students delve into the cultural, biological, psychological and social aspects of having a fulfilling and positive life, while simultaneously rethinking any initial assumptions about the field. In this participatory seminar, students read pieces from Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Walt Whitman and Ernest Hemingway in order to study life satisfaction and the psychiatry of stimulation.

According to Charlotte Poplawski ’13, a guest lecturer in the class, the concept of the psychology of happiness was a response, roughly 30 years ago, to the lack of references to positive coping mechanisms and happiness in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” (DSM), a textbook used by psychologists that classifies mental illnesses.

“I feel like there are three main tenants to happiness,” Poplawski said. “One of them is, of course, positive emotional states. The second tenant is meaning, purpose and fulfillment, so having a deeper sense of well-being in your life. The third one, which I was talking a lot about today [in class], is coping constructively with stress, negative emotions and trauma.”

Poplawski is also a course assistant for Pediatrics 106: “Exploring Health and Happiness,” and said that the teaching mechanisms between the two classes are similar. “We teach a lot of what the research has proven, and then we focus on the application. What can be learned from these studies that can be personally applicable to our lives? What methods can we develop to be able to do this?”

In one class, Poplawski focused on the themes of play, laughter and humor, incorporating a number of fun activities in her lecture to support her points. Students played “rock, paper, scissors” and meditated about a childhood experience in which they were lost in play. Poplawski focused on the properties and usefulness of play, further expanding on the topic by outlining the eight play-personas in life, including the joker, the competitor, the explorer and the storyteller. Students were then asked to reflect on which play-persona best fit with a particular memory they had in mind.

When she moved on to laughter, Poplawski explained the importance of laughter and its effect on the body, incorporating a case study and having students participate in a stare-down activity. She urged students to deliberately and consistently find reasons to laugh and learn to laugh at themselves, dubbing this “humor fitness.”

Beyond Poplawski’s lesson, other topics in the course include the neuroscience of joy, mood states, addictions and spirituality. According to students in The Psychology of Stoked, the class has helped them rethink their understanding of happiness.

“Now, I take at least five minutes out of my day to concentrate on not-thinking and focus on my breathing,” said Edan Armas ’19. “It made me appreciate things around me more because I realized I didn’t really pay attention to the moment. Having that exercise fully implemented in my life after we did it in class influenced me to live more in the moment.”

Another member of the class, Meredith Manda ’19, felt similarly.

“I definitely think [this class] has changed my personal definition of happiness,” Manda said. “Before, I think I thought of happiness more of just a pure feeling of positive emotion, but now I see it more in terms of meaning, friendships and relationships. It’s about the things you really value in life rather than just the emotions that are tied with those things. It’s definitely made me more appreciative of people and experiences in my life.”


Contact Pascale Eenkema van Dijk at pevd ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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