Centenary University graduates earn world’s 1st Master of Arts in happiness

Nearly two years ago, Centenary University began to offer an online Master of Arts in happiness studies. This year, on May 1, the Hackettstown-based school made history when it awarded its first 87 graduates with their degrees.

Grounded in science and research, the virtual academic program is directed by Tal Ben-Shahar, a recognized expert in the field.

Sixty-seven students flew in from across the U.S., as well as Brazil, Canada, China, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, the U.K. and Vietnam to gather together at the school’s Ferry Building prior to the conferral of degrees that evening.

Colts Neck resident Jim Schatzle is a longtime paramedic, as well as founder and CEO of Team Life Inc., a safety training and automated external defibrillator sales company. While the stresses of responding to 911 calls for more than 30 years and running a business initially convinced him to enroll in Centenary’s Master of Arts in happiness studies, he quickly found that the benefits of the program trickled into his personal life — especially interactions with his sons.

“Running a business is serious,” Schatzle said. “There are deadlines, cash flow, personnel, all the stress of business. Taking the Master of Arts in happiness studies has allowed me to look at a much bigger picture, one that places people and spreadsheets in the right order.

“Halfway through my program, while we were in the car, my sons said to me: ‘Dad, you seem calm and happy. It’s nice to see you like this.’ I knew then I had chosen the right master’s program.”

Centenary’s Master of Arts in happiness studies has enrolled more than 150 students, including two who work for Disney (“the Happiest Place on Earth”), a Harvard University graduate working on technology to unlock the brain’s learning potential and a Ukrainian psychologist who created a free online resiliency course for people in the war-torn country.

Ben-Shahar noted that the field of happiness studies seeks to make a positive impact in personal lives, as well as across companies, schools and other organizations.

“Happiness studies is about developing resilience, to be better able to deal with hardships and difficulties. If you increase levels of well-being, relationships improve, teamwork improves and performance improves. That’s true whether we’re talking about schoolchildren or a company’s employees. When we are happy, engagement and motivation go up. There are so many positive side effects of happiness,” he said.

That message resonates with the new graduates of the program.

Schatzle said: “There is a science to happiness. It goes well beyond looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Today I am going to be happy.’ One of the many lessons I have learned in this wonderful program from our professor, Tal Ben-Shahar, is that you cannot chase happiness directly. Instead, become ‘antifragile’ and learn to grow stronger each day. Also, the best path to happiness — the ultimate currency — is to be grateful and love. Love every day.”

The university has plans to expand the program to include undergraduate and doctoral degrees.