Spotlight on Success:

College of Communications' Dr. Jessica Kamrath Set to Teach Happiness Course this Fall; Grabs Attention of Local Media

Dr. Jessica Kamrath

February 16, 2021

“Happiness is created intentionally through language and action. If we can define it for ourselves, then we can intentionally create it in our lives.”

Dr. Jessica Kamrath, assistant professor in the College of Communications, knows a thing or two about happiness. She taught Communication and the Art of Happiness as a special topics course at CSUF last year. It’s being offered again this fall, but she’s hoping it will become a class on the regular course rotation. The Department of Human Communications Studies has submitted her request.  

The intriguing class has also caught the OC Register's attention, which recently featured itOpens in new window in the CSUF section of the local newspaper. 

“A course on happiness sounds ‘fluffy’ and not very rigorous to some, but this course takes work and intentionality,” said Kamrath. “Happiness is created in language and through our communication interactions and behaviors. I’ve had students completely change their career trajectory to reflect their own personal needs and wants rather than what society is telling them what they should need and want.”

College of Communications Dean, Dr. Bey-Ling Sha, is proud that the College can offer the course. “I think many people grow up believing that happiness is something you find somehow or something you receive from a situation or another person,” said Sha. “The power of Dr. Kamrath’s class lies in changing that passive mindset and helping students to realize their own agency to actively create happiness out of whatever ingredients are handed to them by life.”  

Dr. Kamrath says the happiness course was originally developed by Sarah J. Tracy, Ph.D., at Arizona State University, which is where she began teaching it in fall 2016. Since then, she has redesigned the course with a team of faculty and graduate students to incorporate the impacts of technology and new communication studies research.

“The course, specifically, is taught from a transformational approach,” said Kamrath. “It prompts students to question their taken-for-granted assumptions, worldviews, and beliefs that are rooted in discourse and language to shift to an awareness that allows students to intentionally create happiness in their own lives through communication behaviors.”

At this time last year, Dr. Kamrath had no idea a pandemic loomed and how much she would come to rely on the very happiness skills she had taught to her students.

“Each week, it seemed like I had a student who tested positive for Covid-19, had a family member who tested positive or got very sick and was in the hospital or passed away,” Kamrath said.

And then the pandemic hit home--literally. Her husband, Erik, a Fullerton Joint Union High School basketball coach, caught Covid-19 in November. He suffered severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, fevers, chills, and aches, but going to the ER wasn’t an option. Dr. Kamrath was also pregnant.

Dr. Kamrath and her husband Erik

“The hospitals were so overloaded they were only allowing you to bring patients in if they were not breathing or unconscious,” Kamrath said. “I was feeling isolated and scared and exhausted from pregnancy, then testing positive from Covid-19 myself, from trying to navigate the online semester, from the pandemic, from everything.”

Then in January, her mother-in-law passed away from Covid-19. It was far from a happy time. Both being from Wisconsin, Dr. Kamrath and her husband’s support system was thousands of miles away, but they would discover they weren’t alone.

“My students and department rallied around me in a way I never imagined,” said Kamrath. “Erik’s booster club parents rallied around us. The sense of community in Fullerton went way beyond expectations, and we were reminded about the goodness of humanity through this experience.”

Dr. Kamrath also leaned on the lessons she taught to find her happy place once again.

“The happiness course, in general, has changed my mindset and the way I see the world,” said Kamrath. “In the class, we talk about this happiness set point. I have a low set point and used to be a very negative person. I know now that happiness is not a destination to be reached or something tangible. So, when I am teaching the happiness course, I am continually learning right along-side my students.”

Dr. Kamrath will teach Communication and the Art of Happiness on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 pm-2:15 pm.

“My hope is that this course creates a transformation for students to become and be happier and intentionally create happiness in their own lives and the lives of others, rather than simply knowing about happiness.”

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