By Emily Ridlington

While many of us strive ultimately in life to be happy, Dr. John Zelenski is determined to find out what exactly is the source of such happiness.

A professor with the department of psychology, Zelenski studies personalities, how people are different and he finds it all relates back to happiness.

“We look at who is happier, who is less happy, why that is, and how it plays out in that moment,” says Zelenski, who has spent five years researching the subject at Carleton University’s ‘happy lab’, as it is affectionately known.

Currently working on a number of projects, one in particular has caught Zelenski’s attention.

“We are looking at people’s connection to the natural world and to nature. Do people feel part of nature or do they feel disconnected?” he says adding that the results show that people who feel more connected to nature report more positive emotions and a heightened sense of vitality.

There is no better way to see how subjects respond than to send them on a ten-minute walk along the picturesque Rideau River across from his lab, or alternatively have them tour the campus’ underground tunnel network.

Zelenski says that “people who feel connected to nature tend to behave in more pro-environmental ways.” Although his research is in its early stages, he is finding that by making people more connected to nature, they may be making themselves happier and treating the environment better.

Zelenski and his team are hoping that what has been learned from this research “will be helpful to policy makers as they become more interested in building sustainable societies and having people behave in more pro-environmental ways.”

In one phase of his research, he teamed up with Steven Murphy, an assistant professor with the Sprott School of Business at the time. The pair recruited middle management executives to participate in an extensive study. Participants were asked to fill out happiness questionnaires twice a week for two months.

“That allowed us to look at change over time and if they had a particular happy period and if they were more productive. What were the things that went along with that? Could we use additional information to predict what people are doing two months later?” Zelenski says. Steven Murphy has since moved on to hold the position of Dean at Ryerson University.

And of course, the question remains—is the professor who studies happiness happy?

“I definitely enjoy the work that I do and I work with great people including students so overall I am very happy,” he says.

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