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On Assignment: Centre students’ ‘little’ project spreads happiness around Danville

By Mariel Smith
Special to KyForward

Happiness lies at the heart of Centre professor Beau Weston’s research, writing and teaching — specifically The Happy Society, a class now in its second year that explores how people become and remain happy. New this year is the “Little Platoons” project, an assignment designed to create and spread happiness.

Centre professor Beau Weston

Centre professor Beau Weston researches, writes and teaches about happiness. (Photo from Centre)

The project is inspired in part by Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he writes about “little platoons we belong to in society.” Burke writes that attachment to these little platoons is “the germ of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country, and to mankind.”

Using the idea of “little platoons,” Weston modified the previous year’s happiness project, changing it from one the entire class completed to a group of small partner projects.

“One of the main findings of happiness research is that working with others—especially friends—on a meaningful project is one of the most reliably happy-making of actions,” he explains. “Thus the ‘little platoons’ project was born.”

Students worked with another classmate and created a platoon that would do something worthwhile.

Michaela Manley and Clark Weber paired up to bring happiness to a local retirement home, McDowell Place.

“Michaela and I both enjoy talking to our grandparents, ” Weber said, “and we realized that it would be a good idea to write down their happiest memories. We thought we would record memories of other elderly individuals in the community.”

The pair traveled to McDowell Place and recorded residents’ happiest memories, creating transcripts that could be shared with the participants’ families. The activity allowed the elderly to relive some of their favorite memories and share them with their families while also spreading the happiness of those memories with the students who recorded them.


For their ‘little platoon’ project, Centre students’ Leanne Kirkpatrick and Amanda Vance helped Woodlawn Elementary students clean their schools’ secret garden. (Photo from Centre)

The highlight of the project for Weber was spending time with these older members of her platoon.

“They were friendly and extremely nice,” she says. “It was clear that they enjoyed us spending time with them, and that warmed my heart. It definitely made Michaela and me happier.”

Class projects varied greatly, from students simply sitting with someone they did not know in (Michael Fryar and Logan Humphrey) to the men’s lacrosse team cooking for the women’s lacrosse team (Jeremy Carlson and Charles Treis). Kinsey Hisle and Maddie McNabb collected children’s books and read them to Toliver Elementary School students.

“We wanted to spend time with children and read to them as a way to make them happy by showing them we care,” Hisle said.

Leanne Kirkpatrick and Amanda Vance cleaned the “secret garden” at Woodlawn Elementary School with current Woodlawn students. Vance is an education major currently completing observation hours at Woodlawn, so she approached the instructor she is currently observing to facilitate the garden cleanup.

“We thought it would be good to do something with kids to expand the ‘Centre bubble’ and have a lasting impact on them,” Vance said.

While coordinating and completing the cleanup were fairly straightforward, the duo was surprised by the feedback they received when they visited the school after the project was over.


Kinsey Hisle and Maddie McNabb with volunteers and students who participated in a Halloween dress-up and reading activity. (Photo from Centre)

“The responses we got back about how the students felt during and after the cleanup made the project worthwhile for us,” Vance said. “They were proud of what they’d accomplished and glad that they got to help their school. We were a little nervous going into the project, because we feared that what we were trying to get across would be lost on these third, fourth and fifth graders.

Weston is pleased that the projects have both created happiness within the small platoons and spread happiness to the larger community. Indeed, many of the projects may well continue on long after the class has ended, he said.

“Collecting happy memories at the nursing home was an instant hit,” he added. “The lacrosse men cooking for the lacrosse women could easily become a tradition, as could the Theta and Tri Delta seniors cooking for the after-school ESL program.”

Ultimately, the project has not only helped Weston understand more about how happiness is created and spread but also given his students a valuable tool for finding happiness in their own lives.

“Aristotle says that happiness is the chief end of life, the only end that is not a means to another end,” he explains. “The watchword of our entire class was ‘happiness is an action of the soul in accordance with virtue.’ When you go looking for it, happiness seems to underlie everything.”

Mariel Smith writes for the Centre College Communications Office.

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