Holy cow. I feel like I have been on the run the entire last week but in the best way possible. In my first session at DIS, I am taking Positive Psychology with Gitte Vonsild. This past week my class and I traveled to Vienna, Austria for a Study Tour. We did so much in Copenhagen before we left too!
Going into this course, I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Positive Psychology is a relatively new field in psychology, so there is not a lot of information over the internet to scour. However, my mind has been blown by the material we’ve learned and the ways we have been able to explore and apply it.
The Happiest Place On Earth
No, it’s not Disneyland. Denmark is consistently rated one of the happiest countries in the world. You can feel it when you’re here too: there’s a peaceful sense that everything is alright as you roam the streets. Our first week of class followed the common theme of discovering why that would be the case.
To investigate, we started by participating the Danish activity of hygge. Hygge is hard to explain, even for the Danish. From my understanding, it is the act of setting aside time to focus in on what you have and be present in your surroundings. It can look like so many different things: drinking a coffee, reading a book, engaging with your friends or family. For my class, our hygge experience took place at one of the oldest libraries in Denmark while chatting, eating lunch, and getting to know each other. I felt really connected to my classmates and genuinely enjoyed the experience!
Next, we explored The Happiness Museum. It is this neat little nook that has a ton of information on happiness: social, political, architectural, neurological. It was really neat to explore what kinds of patterns arise that lead to happiness in both Denmark and around the world! Fun fact from the museum: people are optimists by nature… people are more likely to rate their future life satisfaction higher than their current life satisfaction. Yay optimism!
A Viennese Extravaganza!
After lots of Danish exploration (and a paper to go with it), my class packed up and headed to Vienna for a truly unforgettable week. I could probably write for ages on everything we experienced. I was excited for the study tour aspect of my DIS experience, but I never imagined the week to be as packed full as it was. These study tours are no joke!
Since I only have a limited space to divulge my Austrian Adventure, I’ll recap each of the major themes of our week with one (or maybe two) anecdote that really sells the point.
Flow is this idea of being so engaged and in-the-zone that you lose all track of time. In order for flow to be truly flow, you need a perfect balance of challenge and skills. Nothing provided this more for me than the biking tour we took through the Austrian countryside.
Now, let me preface this. I have not ridden a bike since 2012. Ten years ago. That was the last time I rode a bike before this. And this wasn’t a cutesy little bike road through some pretty meadow. No, we were biking through the Austrian mountains.
I may be overexaggerating, but you can see that the challenge aspect was really there. However, after our Study Tour Leader graciously stayed back with me and helped me relearn to ride a bike (thank you again, Dorte!), it was such a beautiful view.
I knew this was something I wanted to do. And while it was ridiculously hard at first, one I finally got into a groove, it felt like a flow experience. The day went so fast as I biked through some of the most picturesque scenery I’ve ever seen. It felt nice to be so engaged with my surroundings, my peers and nature all at once.
The tour was definitely full of positive emotions, there’s no doubt about that. Nothing was more positive for me though than the opera we watched one evening.
Our class attended the comedic opera Falstaff. And let me just say, that show was hilarious! I found myself and my classmate laughing at much more than I expected out of an opera.
We talked a lot about Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build Theory in class, and I think that really applied to my opera experience. The essence of the theory is that positive emotions can help a person build resources and produce upward spirals in their life. As we laughed our heads off during the opera, I felt like I understood appreciation of beauty a lot more than I normally do. At certain moments, I would look around and just think about the fact that I was actually watching an opera in a beautiful opera house in Vienna… and enjoying it! I also feel that I really built up some optimism and energy for the rest of the evening. Despite being tired going into the show, I left feeling ready to explore and take on the world!
A big theme of our trip was savouring. This essentially boils down to really taking everything in and honing in on the positive emotions to remember them. The first article we read in class was about how bad is stronger than good. Everywhere we go, people remember and emphasize the bad parts of life over the good ones. We really tried to fight that during this trip and emphasize the good ones.
Almost everyone in my class would tell you that the most savory thing we did was a four-course gourmet meal. It was quite possibly the fanciest food I have ever had. But it was so delicious. My favorite part of the meal wasn’t necessarily the food though, but the time we spent there. We were there for almost three hours! I sat with a lot of people I hadn’t been talking to, but still had a blast getting to know them and their personalities.
No one exemplifies savoring and fighting negative emotion more than Victor Frankl though. Before we left, we read his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, and then we got the opportunity to visit his museum in Vienna. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who went on to create a form of therapy called logotherapy. The essence of logotherapy is using the fact that people are motivated by trying to find purpose. The museum was so inspiring, because it was full of exhibits and quotes that truly show there is a reason to be alive. Here is one memorable quote from his museum and works:
“It is not we who ask something from life, it is life itself that is asking something from us. We should not be asking, rather, we are being asked by life. We are the ones who respond and are responsible.”Victor Frankl
The Present Moment
And finally, my favorite theme: the present moment. We always live so far in the future, having to plan ahead to make the “perfect” day. But in this trip, we focused on really being in the moment, not worrying about what’s ahead, and just living.
I felt this most one afternoon when our activity ended an hour early. A group and I decided to go exploring throughout Vienna, and we had an amazing time. We found famous landmarks like the Empress Maria Theresa Monument and Hofburg Palace. But the most exciting things we did were spontaneous and truly in the present moment.
First, we decided in a split second to hop on a carriage ride and ride around for a while. It was so beautiful seeing downtown Vienna and getting off of our feet for a while! Then, after dinner, our group went on the Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel, which gave us an unbelievable view of the entire city. These two in-the-moment activities made this day so memorable for all of us. If we hadn’t been living in the moment, we wouldn’t have experienced any of these magical morsels of time.
Wrap Up and Bonus Vienna Photos!
I have learned so much about both Positive Psychology and ways to live a positive life from this class already. The content of the class itself has been so engaging and really piqued my interest. I hope to explore it more throughout my academic career and use it in my professional life. And when I return home, I will definitely find time for hygge and spontaneous present-moment adventures!