Key Takeaways

  • Every year, NISC's annual Programs of Excellence Awards honor and promote the outstanding programs offered by senior centers across the country.

  • Learn more about The Road to Happiness, the 2022 Programs of Excellence Award Winner in the Modernizing Senior Centers Innovation category.

NISC Programs of Excellence 

  • Year Awarded: 2022
  • Programs of Excellence Name: The Road to Happiness
  • Hosting Organization: Ela 55+, Ela Township, Illinois
  • Ela Township Population: 45,000
  • 60+ Population: 
  • Senior Center Members: 

About The Road to Happiness

Psychology professor Laurie Santos was concerned about the levels of student depression and anxiety at Yale University and created the course, "Psychology and the Good Life," which debuted in the 2018 spring semester. About 1,200 students enrolled, making it the most popular course in the university's 317-year history.

In an effort to reach as many people as possible, Santos made it a free online course and renamed it "The Science of Well Being".  Ela 55+ Assistant Community Programs Director Jim Dalbec emailed Santos "on a whim and asked if she would mind if I adapted her course for our senior residents in Ela Township here in Lake Zurich, Illinois."

Not only did Santos respond, but she said her only stipulation was that the senior center make the course free.  

"She then graciously sent me all of the materials and lecture notes, and told me to let her know if I needed anything else," Dalbec said.  "I used her materials and online lectures to create an 8-week course with PowerPoint slides that I have led 10 different times here at our center. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially during and after COVID."

Participants have included the recently widowed, recent retirees struggling with finding a purpose, new parents, new grandparents, and everyone in between. 

Key takeaways from The Road to Happiness:

  • The class begins with a free online survey to measure a happiness baseline and to determine signature strengths of every participant that they use the entire 8 weeks. 
  • After an intial 35-person class felt too large, subsequent offerings were kept to 10-15, "and the result was a much more intimate setting where participants were much more willing to share and build connections."
  • The course does not rely on "crazy techniques or anything earth shattering" but delves into the science of what makes us happy and why we gravitate towards things that don't make us happy. 

About Ela 55+

Ela 55+ is dedicated to providing the highest quality recreational social and supportive services to adults 55 and older residing in Ela Township, Illninois. The goal: to foster a warm environment where individuals can explore and enjoy activities and services designed to meet the needs and enrich the lives of Ela Township's diverse older adult population. Activities include monthly vaccine clinics, day trips such as an outing to the Wisconsin State Fair, exercise classes, cooking demonstrations, and more.