2017-2018 Synthesis Unit: The Art and Science of Happiness

Students and faculty were invited to join speaker, Josette Tkacik, at one of her very spirited Zumba classes!

“A speaker that impacted me was Josette Tkacik, her story was just amazing. She went from being a dancer in a dance company to being so sick she couldn’t get out of bed. She went through doctors telling her she was sick with an incurable disease. She didn’t give up but began doing Zumba and now has a hug class six times a week!”—10th grader


 The Art and Science of Happiness

2017 – 2018 Synthesis Unit


“I learned that having something to look forward to is a kick-starter for happiness, that you can do anything if you put your mind to it, and that uncomfortable does not mean incapable. It’s important to learn about the art and science of happiness so that we can live a happy and fulfilled life.”—7th grader

“I think it is important to learn about happiness just so you know how difficult it can be to find happiness. Recognize and appreciate when you are happy because it can be hard to obtain. That’s what makes it better- without sadness, there would be no happiness.”—10th grader

“Learning about the art and science of happiness teaches you how you can make yourself feel better and how you can make others feel better.”—8th grader

 Early in the academic year, the faculty and students of Anacapa decided upon their topic for the annual Synthesis Unit—The Art and Science of Happiness. After the devastation of the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides, this topic became even more pertinent and powerful. At a time when Santa Barbara is still responding and rebuilding after a term of tragedy, 18 professionals arrived from across California and beyond to spend three days sharing their thoughts on the human condition. Dr. Zev Nathan presented The Science of Happiness, Elissa Ashwood discussed Happiness Through Hard Times, Josette Tkacik’s examined The True Power of Joy, and Dave Mochel reflected on Good Life Practice: Training Your Brain for a Peaceful and Powerful Life—just to name a few.

(Click here for a full list and short bios of the amazing speakers that joined Anacapa)

Highlights from Anacapa’s Synthesis Unit The Art and Science of Happiness included an analysis of the pursuit of happiness, an exploration of mindfulness, an inquiry into finding happiness through the divine, and an investigation into the power of perseverance. Anacapa School students, families, and faculty posed a suite of engaging questions to further enhance the relevance of this event for students across 7th through 12th grades. Following Emily Esfahani Smith’s lecture on The Power of Meaning, one Anacapa student asked, “How do you stay motivated to find meaning through challenging times?” Asking questions and engaging in dialogue with professionals that they meet are attributes of Anacapa students that are further nurtured by the annual Synthesis Unit. Students learn how to both listen and talk, helping create a lively and exciting forum of open discussions and communication, impressing not only their teachers, but the speakers as well, as seen by testimonials sent to our Headmaster:

  • “I had a blast interacting with your students! They were very attentive and asked thoughtful questions- a bright group. Thank you for the opportunity to share the Blue Zones Project story with the next generation.” Erika Graves
  • “It was a joy and a privilege to be there with the kids and you and your great staff. The kids are so bright, so open. I truly enjoyed my time there.” Pravrajika Vrajaprana
  • “Grateful for the invitation to speak. I enjoyed answering your students’ questions and sharing my Wayfinder story.” Alexx Temena

The annual Anacapa Synthesis Unit is a signature element of the school’s innovative curriculum. The program exposes Anacapa students to some of the brightest minds and most talented experts from across Santa Barbara, California and the world via Skype. The Synthesis Unit theme of happiness was created in collaboration between Anacapa School students and the teachers who support them. Students are now busy “synthesizing” the information learned during the unit and working on their individual research reports and group film project.

Click here to see more photos from Facebook

Erika Graves, Senior Manager, Blue Zones Project: Creating Environments to Improve Health and Happiness

Pravrajika Vrajaprana, Writer and nun at the Vedanta Society of Southern California’s Sarada Convent: Finding Happiness through the Divine
“The speaker who impacted me the most was Pravrajika Vrajaprana because she enlightened us about our ‘atman’ (the divine within us), stating that our atman is always happy and that our mind and body are only temporarily sad.” – 12th grader


Elissa Ashwood, Transformational Consumer Programs Expert, founder of Calendaring Happiness: Happiness through Hard Times

 “One speaker who had a positive impact on me was Elissa Ashwood; her breast cancer journey inspired her to create a program that encourages people to find everyday happiness no matter what. I learned the technique of ‘calendaring happiness’ from her to make sure there are opportunities for joy and things to look forward to everyday. I also learned that hard experiences, whether they are a cancer diagnosis (like her case) or a stressful day of studying (like me), can be difficult but also can inspire one to live the best life.” – 11th grader

Dr. Andrew Binder, Board Certified Sleep Specialist: What Parents, Teenagers, Teachers, and Doctors Don’t Know about Sleep…but Should