Happiness 101: register now

2014-03-23 06:00

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Happiness is a multimillion dollar business in the US and South Africans – whose stress levels sit at twice the global norm – can now get in on the act.

Online courses in happiness are available by signing up to the Happiness University, which was launched in Cape Town and Washington simultaneously on the UN’s World Happiness Day on Thursday.

Registration to the 12-week Happiness 101 course, for instance, costs R480, raising suspicions that this could be the latest new-age money-making scam.

But co-founder Bill Gee, sporting a purple Indian shirt, walrus moustache and grey ponytail, is serious about the science behind happiness, claiming it is a new medical field, which is only about 15 years old.

The science of happiness was honed in serious circumstances: by assisting palliative care workers looking after people dying of Aids in South Africa deal with the stress and depression caused by the unending demands of the work.

This came about after Gee who, following recovery from stress-related burnout as an international businessman, was sorting out the administration of renowned laughter yoga guru Dr Madan Kataria’s global practice.

Having founded the nonprofit InHappiness Foundation in Mumbai in 2007, Gee came to South Africa in 2007 to speak at a Hospice palliative care conference about the benefits of laughter.

Afterwards, Gee was “grabbed” by someone from USAid who said he needed help offering support to palliative care workers dealing with dying HIV-positive patients in southern Africa.

“These people were all suffering from clinical depression, their families were falling apart, they had stress-related diseases like diabetes …” he says.

With funding from USAid and using laughter yoga and techniques developed in workshops and courses, the foundation “basically tried to create a new field of medicine,” says Gee, who himself laughs often during normal conversation.

This would normally take 20 to 30 years, he said, but with the HIV/Aids field being reviewed annually, they were able to fast-track their findings, which have been presented in 28 papers, mostly at American Public Health Association conferences.

And while it is tempting to scoff at paying for a Happiness 101 course, the university is part of the nonprofit foundation and one happiness seeker’s fee pays for a happiness building programme for a disadvantaged orphan or vulnerable child in southern Africa.

And children, lacking adult scepticism, benefit extraordinarily from a ray of happiness in their lives.

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