• Ilan Cooley

the happiness project

Updated: Aug 26

"I set out to make myself happier. It took time and effort to tunnel my way out of sadness, but I did it.".

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I took a happiness class and it made me happier. It’s true and I can prove it.


Last December I set out to make myself happier. A series of personal losses had resulted in many layers of grief. It took time and effort to tunnel my way out of sadness, but I did it.

By the time we were told to stay at home due to the pandemic, I had already formed many tangible solutions to deal with my sadness. I was well on my way to rebuilding a happier me, but new setbacks meant there was more digging to do. This led me to take an online course offered by Yale University called The Science of Wellbeing. The course examines what truly makes you happy and challenges the thinking and habits connected to happiness, by presenting lectures, research study findings and exercises.

The first task is to take the PERMA test, which measures: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. I felt my score was lower than it should have been. At the time, I had been isolated for more than a month and was deprived of two of the things that make me the most happy — my work and my friends and family. It was a good time to rethink happiness.

Each week examines a new topic. The areas of study include savouring things you enjoy, having gratitude for people and things in your life, increasing acts of kindness, social connection with strangers, and scheduling time for the people in your life, exercising at least 30 minutes a few times a week, sleeping at least seven hours, meditating, and identifying character strengths. There is a survey to determine character strengths available on the VIA Website

The course presents clear evidence that many of the things we believe will make us happy do not. Having more possessions, more money, higher grades, a job promotion, or status, do not sustain happiness. Doing things for others, taking care of ourselves, living in the moment, reflecting, and being appreciative, are proven to boost happiness. There is a weekly Rewirement exercise intended to form positive and tangible habits that literally make you happier.


At the end of the course students are challenged to complete a final project based on one of the Rewirement assignments. I chose to use my top character strength, which is creativity. I decided to focus on creative writing early in the course, publicly sharing daily posts on my personal Facebook page about dealing with isolation. After sharing the posts, I started to receive media requests to talk about my isolation experiences. My Isolation 101 essay was published on Todayville, and it received 50,000 views. I was asked to talk to Global Television and the story aired nationally. Plus, The Globe and Mail interviewed me about living alone during the stay-at-home order. I began to get feedback, especially from friends, about how my writing was helping them. Knowing my writing resonated with others meant the most to me.


As the momentum of my posts began to build, and as more and more people said my writing was helpful, I decided to find a way to formalize the content. In the four-week period of my final challenge, I created a new website for both my new and existing writing and launched a YouTube channel. If you are reading this, you are a witness to the benefits of the happiness class. Writing and sharing my writing is an authentic source of my happiness. When I took the PERMA test at the beginning of the course, I had been alone for 43 days without any human contact. I was really struggling. My first happiness score was only 2.9, but after taking The Science of Wellbeing, it increased to 3.5. I have by no means completely eliminated sadness or struggle from my life, but I can confidently say there is a tangible and noticeable difference in how I feel now, versus the beginning.

Many things have helped build my sustainable happiness over the past five months. Many of those things were reinforced by the Rewirement assignments. These included: doing yoga online, and now in-person back at Bliss Yoga Spa with Lindsay Park, working out online, and now back at Pure Wellness Studio with my trainer Mike Clark, taking an Intuition 101 class with Sheetal Story, where I learned to work on my chakras, and energy cord cutting (game changer), exercising almost every day, reading and using meditative reflections from Meggan Watterson, getting lots of sleep, and strengthening connections by asking to spend time with people, or accepting social invitations.

I know this may seem like a lot, and to be honest, it is. In a time when things are disorienting, it helps to have a roadmap. I greatly enjoyed and benefited from taking The Science of Wellbeing and recommend it to you if you want to discover what will truly make you happy!

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