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First-ever Sac State Happiness Day celebrates the importance of joy and well-being

Sacramento State’s Department of Psychology on March 16 hosted its first Happiness Day, where students learned the importance of joy, especially during highly stressful times. (Sacramento State/Belen Torres)

Money may not buy happiness, but students and faculty at Sacramento State’s first Happiness Day celebration learned that acts of gratitude and free hugs from Herky can.

The Department of Psychology hosted the March 16 event to help the campus community understand the benefits of happiness – and that those benefits are both essential and attainable.

Attendees at the first-ever Sacramento State Happiness Day event, hosted by the Department of Psychology on March 16, visited booths and particpated in activities to learn about the benefits of happiness. (Sacramento State/Belen Torres)

“Happiness is not a luxury, it’s a necessity in our lives,” said Meliksah Demir, Sac State’s endowed professor in happiness. “The research shows there are tons of benefits of happiness. Happy people live ten years longer, they’re more successful at work and in life.

“During these stressful times, we should focus on being happy. In contrast to past assumptions that if you work really hard, you’ll be happy, the evidence shows being happy contributes to success.”

Happiness Day attendees learned about research into the benefits of happiness, including improved health and better relationships.

Roughly two dozen students helped organize the event, which included poster presentations on topics such as money, gratitude, and social relationships. One poster detailed how scientists measure happiness and invited attendees to complete a quick online happiness test.

Participants also learned about well-established activities that promote happiness, such as taking a moment to text a loved one or writing a thank-you card to someone on campus.

Herky the Hornet even gave away free hugs at the Good Vibes station.

“Happiness is also good for our communities,” Demir said. “Happy people donate blood and their money and time. They’re more likely to wear a seatbelt while driving.”

Hosting the event is one of the goals Demir had when he arrived on campus in 2021 as Sac State’s first endowed professor in happiness. The University created the position thanks to a gift from area businessman, entrepreneur, and alumnus Rekhi Singh.

During the event, President Robert S. Nelsen formally presented Singh with the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service, which Singh was unable to accept in person when the award was given in 2021.

Demir also created a new psychology course on happiness. But because the campus was still mostly closed due to the pandemic when the class was first offered in the spring of 2021, students took it on Zoom.

Now, Demir and his students are able to enjoy the benefits of holding the class in-person.

“This semester was the first opportunity for us to start celebrating and practicing happiness and promoting activities,” he said. “The pandemic was not easy for most people, but now that we’re back on campus we can engage with our community and find ways to be happy.”

It’s no accident Happiness Day took place during midterms week.

“Students are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety right now,” said Daniela Santellanez, a graduate student studying the psychology of gratitude who helped organize the event. “We just wanted to promote happiness for our students so they can increase their well-being.

Sac State’s Endowed Professor in Happiness Meliksah Demir, who has been working toward hosting Happiness Day since he joined the University in 2021, said “Happiness is not a luxury, it’s a necessity in our lives." (Sacramento State/Belen Torres)

“They’re learning a lot and are surprised by some of the activities you can do to increase happiness such as texting someone a grateful message. It’s a simple thing that you wouldn’t expect.”

Saying “thank you” is also something that is easy to forget, said psychology student Sydnie Paul.

“You’re so used to having people around you every day, and it’s the small things they do that you forget to acknowledge,” Paul said. “It’s important to be reminded to show that appreciation.”

Demir said people were surprised to learn happiness can lead to a longer life.

“Mission accomplished,” he said. “Because now they know why happiness matters and that happiness is a necessity not a luxury.”

Several students attended the Happiness Day event to earn extra credit for their classes, but left with helpful information.

“Looking around at the posters, I realized that we don’t really talk about happiness in everyday life,” Psychology student Areli Perez said. “I feel like it’s really important to come here and learn about it.”

Organizers also hoped to raise awareness about the upcoming International Day of Happiness on March 20.

The United Nations established the observance in 2012 to recognize happiness as a fundamental human goal and encourage public policy promoting the importance of happiness.

“We believe having an event such as ours will prime people to start thinking about and perhaps motivate them to do something to celebrate happiness on March 20,” Demir said.

“This was our first event, but we are hoping to have other small-scale activities on campus to raise awareness about the importance of happiness.”

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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