Monday, May 16, 2011

Hope and Joy are also Contagious

In recent articles on the escalating numbers of suicides in Korean colleges, much is made of the stress experienced by students in striving to succeed. To lessen some of this stress, programs were started to change the atmosphere on college campuses.

A  professor in the psychiatric department of the Catholic University Medical School gave a talk on "Management of Stress and Happiness", as a beginning effort to change the thinking among  students. The journalist who interviewed the  professor introduces us to some of his ideas, which were written up in the Catholic Weekly.

The problem, the professor explains, exists not only among students who kill themselves but throughout society. What happens on a college campus is a microcosm of what is happening in society, and should be an alarm bell for all of us.

Lack of mental and emotional balance in society is the reason for the problem, according to the professor. For true happiness, he says, we need to experience  the harmonious blending of joy, enthusiasm and meaning in life. While students are enthusiastic about their studies, finding joy or meaning as they pursue their studies is difficult, which brings on the stress. Since we as a society place a great deal of emphasis on money, honors and success, we learn to work diligently to acquire these goals, often failing to find joy or meaning in their pursuit, with the result that cynicism follows. Not surprisingly  our students are emulating the same behaviors found in society. For a happy life, the professor advises that we start off with our strong points,  enjoy what we are doing, and find meaning.

 Suicide can also be brought on by our inability to bounce back from the difficulties of life, often from a lack of a positive and optimistic attitude. Optimists use the present to their advantage but when it doesn't go the way they want, they are open to trying something else. Before blaming the social structures  and those in leadership positions, the professor recommends that students find meaning for their life,  enjoy what they are doing, and be positive in their attitude.

The professor says that if there is just one person who listens to those who are troubled and provides understanding support, they are not likely to take the radical step of suicide. To make this approach more generally available,  he wants society to set up support networks on college campuses to change the atmosphere there and then spread this same network throughout society.

He concludes that it is difficult to  change the country but to change 10,000 structures is easy.  If we are able to change the thinking of our future leaders who are now studying in our colleges then society will change. Pessimism, unfortunately, can be contagious. But so is hope, and so is joy.

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