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How Happiness Leads to Healthier Lives

Through a newly launched lecture series, the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is exploring happiness and how it can help lead us to healthier lives.

The UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences focuses its research and education on topics that reveal the complexity of interactions shaping the human condition. Its research addresses issues related to healthy families and secure communities, global conflict and poverty, and environmental change.

As part of the Downtown Lecture Series, UA faculty members will give five talks on "happiness," presenting research from their diverse fields of study, including sociology, anthropology, psychiatry, philosophy and integrative medicine.

Also, those at the University and in the general community are contributing to a blog on happiness that is being hosted by the Arizona Daily Star. The blog, which is updated regularly, is available online.

The UA series is designed to share UA research on topics related to happiness, and is an exploration of topics that shape our everyday lives.

"We were looking to do something to support the downtown community," said John Paul Jones III, dean of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "By creating a lecture series at the Fox Theatre, we hope to add an educational component to downtown's expanding arts and culture scene and attract a new crowd who hopefully will patronize downtown businesses while they are there," Jones said.

All lectures will be held 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. On-street parking downtown is free after 5 p.m., and other parking locations are nearby. They lectures are:
 
Oct. 16
Pursuing and Finding Happiness with Celestino Fernández, School of Sociology
 
The Declaration of Independence identifies happiness as an "unalienable" right for all people. But how do we determine a society's overall happiness, and how do social groups experience happiness differently? Professor Fernández explores recent research that shows how social factors influence happiness. Are we happier today than we were 50 or 100 years ago? Does happiness change with age, education, income level, religiosity or marital status? Where do the happiest people live? The answers offer insight into how we find and pursue happiness as individuals and as a society.  
 
Oct. 23
Compassion Training as a Path to Genuine Happiness with Dr. Charles Raison, Department of Psychiatry and the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences
 
Most of us seek happiness by approaching what we desire, avoiding what we dislike or fear, and ignoring the rest. Raison presents a different approach to enhancing well-being, one that embraces conflict and frustration as a means to produce internal changes linked to happiness. Derived from ancient Buddhist teachings, this approach has been secularized into a technique known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training. Raison will present evidence that compassion training has the potential to optimize emotional and physical health by improving stress responses and enhancing the brain's empathic responses to others. 
 
Oct. 30
How Our Surroundings Influence Happiness and Health with Dr. Esther Sternberg, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine
 
Do the places and spaces around us affect our happiness and health? Sternberg will show how our physical environment can affect emotions and trigger the brain's stress or relaxation responses, while exploring the connections between the brain and the immune system that underlie these effects. Sternberg's research enables individuals to structure their environment and activities to best buffer the negative effects of stress, helps health-care providers apply mind-body therapies, and assists health-care and hospital designers in creating spaces that facilitate healing. 
 
Nov. 6
The Evolutionary Links Between Exercise and Happiness with David Raichlen, School of Anthropology
 
Why do some activities make us happy? Professor Raichlen shares recent evidence that suggests our brains are wired to enjoy behaviors that helped our ancestors survive hunting and gathering lifestyles. For example, when we exercise, our bodies produce neurochemicals that improve our mood and make us happy. This is no accident. Evolution likely linked these neurobiological "rewards" with exercise to help motivate early humans to search for food. Taking cues from our evolutionary history shows how our brains and bodies are powerfully interconnected and provides a novel mechanism to increase our happiness today.
 
Nov. 13
Happiness – A Feeling or a Future? with Daniel C. Russell, Center for the Philosophy of Freedom
 
We all agree that happiness is something we want, even if there has never been much agreement about what makes us happy. But as Russell explains, there has also been a shift in why we talk about happiness. Today, we usually discuss happiness as a feeling we want. In ancient Greek philosophy, however, happiness came up in discussions about the future – a practical discussion about the kind of life we want to live and the things we want to live for. Russell explores this ancient tradition in search of new directions for contemporary thought about the good lives we want for ourselves and for others.

Seating will be first-come, first-served; however, to secure seats and avoid lines, attendees may pick up free tickets in advance (four tickets max per person) at the Fox Tucson Theatre ticket booth beginning at 11 a.m. on the day of each lecture.

The lead sponsors for the Downtown Lecture Series on Happiness are the Tucson Medical Center, the Arizona Daily Star and the Magellan Circle, which is the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences donor society. Additional sponsors include Arizona Public Media, the EOS Foundation, Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, Path to Happiness, the UA Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, the UA Department of Philosophy, the UA Institute of the Environment and realtor Vickie Jacobs. Community sponsors are Body Works Pilates and Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails.

Contact: Lori Harwood, external relations director for the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, at 520-626-3846 or harwoodl@email.arizona.edu.