Upfront

The Girl Scouts of the USA teamed with Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, to develop a “Science of Happiness” Badge. To earn the badge, “cadettes” — Girl Scouts in sixth, seventh and eighth grades — must create and implement a monthlong strategy for increasing their own happiness, says Alisha Niehaus, executive editor of Girl Scouts program resources.

Seligman, who directs the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, helped develop the requirements for the badge, based on his research on reducing depression and anxiety among adolescents. The badge gives pre-adolescents strategies for increasing wellbeing before they become teenagers, he says.

“After puberty there is a very large rise in depression, but if you can work with children right before puberty, you can help reduce it,” says Seligman. “There are 21 replications around the world for teaching these skills to children aged 10 to 12, and the metaanalysis shows significant reductions in depression and anxiety as they get older.”

The Science of Happiness badge takes cadettes through five steps, including “Make yourself happier” and “Get happy through others,” each with its own recommended activities. Girl Scouts can make a collage about someone meaningful to them, write a list of things that make them feel good, or create a family “bliss box” of memories and souvenirs. Girls also keep a journal about the activities and their plans for future projects.

The badge is intended to boost the girls’ awareness of the science behind happiness and psychology, Niehaus says. “We’re always looking for highinterest science activities, and this gives budding psychologists a chance to work in a research-oriented way,” she says. It also helps prepare them for the future. “Adolescence is such a hard time,” says Niehaus. By showing girls that there are strategies for developing happiness, the Girl Scouts hopes to teach them that they have a measure of control over their feelings and actions. “It can be really helpful just figuring what makes you happy and trying it out to see what works for you,” Niehaus says.

The new badge is part of a program-wide merit badge revamp — the first comprehensive revision to the program in nearly 25 years — to mark the Girl Scout’s 100th anniversary.

—E. Wojcik