While most professors care about their students’ well being, it’s the rare faculty member who decides to make increasing students’ happiness her personal and professional mission.
That’s what’s unique about Sungu Armagan, a College of Business senior instructor known for her infectious smile and upbeat personality. When Armagan started teaching MBA courses, she saw her students coming to class looking weary from dealing with heavy loads of personal and job-related stress. She wondered: how could she guide them to happier, more fulfilling lives? She started to realize that helping students navigate life’s challenges and opportunities might yield that answer.
A few years later, she had her “aha” moment. Having come across Harvard University’s popular course on happiness taught by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar eight months prior, she knew without a doubt that she wanted to teach a course on happiness. And since she taught in the business school, she knew the topic she wanted to teach: happiness in the workplace.
In 2012 and 2013, Armagan developed the curriculum for the Happiness at Work course. First offered in Spring 2013, it’s now one of the most popular courses among FIU’s undergraduate business students. The course combines understanding the psychological aspects of a fulfilling and thriving life with behavioral sciences as they relate to happiness in the workplace.
“In the business school, we do a great job teaching technical skills, but we can also get better at teaching the softer skills that relate to general success, productivity and well-being in the workplace,” said Armagan, faculty member in the Department of Global Leadership and Management, who obtained a Ph.D. in business administration and organizational behavior at the University of Utah.
The course allows students to develop analytical skills for understanding, explaining, predicting and managing human thoughts, emotions and behavior —both individually and within an organization. The overall objective for the class, Armagan said, is to understand the theory and practice of happiness in life as well as in business and management, examining theories of psychology, social psychology, philosophy and organizational behavior.
The topic lends itself to a variety of learning modes. Armagan uses readings, assignments, audio visual material, in-class discussions, and experiential exercises, including community service projects, and also brings in guest lecturers, a course highlight. Her students have assisted more than a dozen South Florida nonprofits, including Feeding South Florida, West Kendall Baptist Hospital and West Hialeah Gardens Elementary. She teaches the course in a hybrid format during the fall and spring semesters, with approximately 280 students registered for each, and also teaches Happiness at Work online. During Fall 2018, she taught her course to 478 students in a single class, an experience she calls “one of the best times of my life.” Her Spring 2019 class is already full, with a waiting list.
Learning theories and applications behind self-confidence and success.
Armagan, who has taught Organizational Behavior and International Business Negotiations at the undergraduate level and Organizational Behavior and Negotiations at the master’s level, has seen the course make its mark on the career choices students make.
“It enhances their self-confidence and helps them choose more compatible jobs and careers, whether they work for themselves or others,” she said.
Alan Persaud ’16, a JD/MBA candidate at FIU, is an example of the course’s life-changing impact. He decided to enroll in the Happiness at Work class because it had good reviews from previous students and he was intrigued by the concept.
“It’s a course that reminds students, workers and people of why they came to school or work in the first place,” he said. “[Armagan’s] vivacious personality, charisma and energetic behavior is contagious, and her students enjoy going to class, not only for the subject but also for her.”
After he graduated, with the help of what he learned in the class, Persaud became a JD/MBA candidate at FIU.
The course has helped students interview more successfully, get better jobs and decide to double major.
“Many students have also said that they look forward to our class sessions because they feel so much more relaxed and happier, and it makes their whole week go much better,” Armagan said.
That positive impact continues after graduation.
Odlin Mauricette ’13, a member of the first Happiness at Work cohort, said that the class gave him a more positive outlook and taught him to have more empathy and patience for family, friends and even strangers.
“It has allowed me to be more open to different ideas from my co-workers and peers about issues they have,” said Mauricette, who works at New World School of the Arts. “Now I give assignments to my co-workers based on what they do best.”
As a result, friends, bosses and co-workers appreciate his positivity and happy energy.
“They genuinely want to be around me,” he said. “The happiness class helped with that without me even realizing it.”
Persaud added that Armagan’s personal style has a motivational impact. “One thing that’s special about Professor Armagan is her positivity,” he said. “Every email I read and every conversation I have with her always ends in a smiley face. She never sees a glass as half empty. She always sees it as half full.”