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At the beginning of the semester, Fera's
students take a Positivity Self-Test
developed by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
to assess how happy they are. They also
take a self-assessment inventory to
identify their character strengths.
Those strengths translate into qualities
such as curiosity, love of learning,
kindness, social intelligence, self-
regulation, humor and persistence,
many of which correlate with student
success.
This concept of playing to an
individual's strong suits is one of the
things Fera likes most about positive
psychology. As the semester progresses,
through readings, exercises and
interventions, students learn how to
promote positive emotions and
behaviors that encourage and reinforce
their strengths.
"Research has shown that there are
intentional activities and actions that
can be learned, and they all have a
demonstrable positive effect on your
life," said Fera. The goal is to move
from a state of apathy, worry and
anxiety, to optimal functioning or
"flow."
"Flow is that feeling you get when you
enjoy what you're doing so much that
you lose all sense of time," he
explained. "The more we can make that
happen in our lives, the happier we
will be."
Among other activities, Fera's students
meditate in class, write gratitude
letters to important people in their
lives, connect more with nature, and
perform random acts of kindness. One
of his favorite exercises is to ask
students each night before they fall
asleep to think of three good things
that happened to them that day, or
three things to be grateful for.
His students are also encouraged to
become aware of and get involved in
"enabling institutions." "We're all
involved in institutions, but some are
healthier than others," Fera explained.
"Positive psychology promotes
becoming more active in the beneficial
institutions in your life, which can
include family, school, work,
community or religious institutions."
These simple acts and techniques,
when performed on a regular basis, can
reduce stress and anxiety, leading to
greater well-being, he said. And Fera
has seen it happen again and again. At
the end of each semester, his students
re-take the Positivity Self-Test. Most
show an improved "positivity ratio,"
meaning they are, indeed, happier after
taking his course. But the benefits of
positive psychology go beyond the
classroom, Fera added.
"The pace of life today is great, the
number of stressors is large, and our
coping skills are ineffective," he said.
"If we can teach students how to reduce
the stressors and develop better coping
skills, they will be more relaxed and
experience more well-being and learn
better."
And, anyone can start this process at
any time, he said. "The good thing
about positive psychology is it's never
too late," said Fera. "You can be 20, 40
or 50 years old and practice these
things."
Fera's positive psychology courses have
been so successful, he has begun
leading faculty workshops on the
subject. "I would be talking with my
colleagues about the course and what
we do in class, and they would say, `I'd
like to take that course,' " he said.
"So, with the enthusiastic support of
Provost Phil Sisson and Associate
Provost Clea Andreadis, I began
running six-week faculty and staff
seminars two each semester and all
have been over-enrolled and very
dynamic." He recently led an all-day
strengths-based retreat for MCC's
entire Student Affairs Division, a
group of more than 40 people. Fera
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also leads weekly meditation sessions,
open to all Middlesex students, staff and
faculty, on the Lowell campus.
A graduate of the State University of
New York at Buffalo, Fera earned his
bachelor's degree in English and
political science. He received a master's
degree in counseling psychology from
Tufts University.
He came to Middlesex as a personal
counselor in the early1980s, and after
four years moved to the academic side.
"I really enjoy teaching and developing
new programs and courses," said Fera.
`Stress & Resiliency'
Course for Veterans
In addition to his "Positive Psychology"
courses, Social Science and Human
Services Professor Robert Fera also
teaches a one-credit course just for
veterans. Titled "Stress and Resiliency:
The Mind/Body Connection" (PSY 156),
the eight-week class meets one hour
per week and is offered on the Lowell
campus this semester.
This unique course explores the
clinically proven connections between
the human body's mental and physical
responses and reactions, said Fera. He
teaches veterans common things like
meditation and other relaxation
techniques to reduce stress and elicit
a relaxation response, which can
improve health and build resilience.
Learning these fairly simple coping
skills can help student veterans better
adjust to post-military life, Fera
explained.
For more information about his "Stress
and Resiliency" course, contact
Professor Fera
at ferar@middlesex.mass.edu or
781-280-3918.
For course registration information, call
1-800-818-3434 or register online
www.middlesex.mass.edu
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