By Robyn Sanders
When students thinks about taking a psychology class, they might think of studying different psychological disorders or looking at what factors make a person violent or aggressive.
This semester, however, two Baylor professors are exploring the positive side of psychology.
“Positive psychology is the study of happiness, meaning and what makes life worth living,” Dr. Michael Frisch, associate professor of psychology, said.
Dr. Wade Rowatt, associate professor and graduate program director of psychology and neuroscience is collaborating with Fisch.
“This course is unique because it focuses more than any other on human strengths, happiness and how to increase quality of life,” Rowatt said.
Frisch said this is the most popular class at Harvard College, and offering it here makes Baylor more competitive.
“Both President Ken Starr and Provost Elizabeth Davis have said that Baylor is unique in that it’s a place that we encourage students to explore the meaning of life, the meaning and purpose of life,” Frisch said. “And this whole class is about finding and studying a meaning and purpose in life.”
Frisch said for a long time, psychology has focused too much on what is wrong with people, and positive psychology looks at what is right.
“We focus too much on ill-being, which is negative emotions like anger, anxiety and depression,” Frisch said. “And we want to redress that by looking at well-being.”
Frisch also said many of the character virtues and strengths taught in positive psychology correlate to Christian values.
“In many ways, positive psychology is infused with the study of Christian virtues, such as gratitude, forgiveness, love, hope,” Frisch said, “but what’s unique about it is it’s obsessed with being scientific and research based. Positive psychology is obsessed with trying to find out what the research tells us about these emotions.”
The course utilizes one of Frisch’s books, “Quality of Life Therapy,” and a second textbook, “Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths.”
“Dr. Frisch and I are taking a scientist-practitioner approach to the class,” Rowatt said. “Dr. Frisch has literally written the book on quality-of- life therapy. My primary role is to facilitate discussion about the best research-based evidence. Students lead class discussions, which gives them freedom and responsibility to teach too.”
During class, Frisch and Rowatt administer different happiness inventories to the students. One of these is Frisch’s Quality-of-Life Inventory, which surveys how satisfied or dissatisfied a person is with their life in 16 different areas, including health, self-esteem, work, love and friends.
“This course has the potential to change lives in very positive ways,” Rowatt said. “Our hope is that students take stock of where they are at this time and place in life and commit to building character strengths that will last a lifetime. Happiness is something to be cultivated each day. You can’t buy if off the shelf, order it off a relationship menu, or expect it to happen just because you take the class or read the book.”
Frisch said human beings have a natural tendency to think negatively, and he hopes this class can help change that type of thinking.
The positive psychology class has the potential to be popular, but Rowatt says he’d rather focus on the quality of the class.
“This is the kind of class that could grow to hundreds of students a semester or stay smaller, about 15 to 20,” Rowatt said.
“Either way it can be successful, but the focus has to be on students and what’s best for them, not just any given instructor’s lecture, a book chapter or journal article.”