Want to be happy? Study philosophy

Judy Sokei teaches philosophy at Honolulu Community College
Judy Sokei teaches philosophy at Honolulu Community College

By Tiara Spencer
Ka LĀ staff writer
“So does anybody have a joke?” asks the youthful, happy instructor at HonCC . With the whole class laughing and relaxed, she’s already got the students in a rough circle, ready to think about the one of the biggest questions in life: How to find happiness.
So begins another philosophy class with instructor Judy Sokei.
Sokei started out in college majoring in pre­med. However, things in her life soon weren’t going her way. She removed herself from classes she wasn’t too fond of, and when her father passed away, she found herself in a very dark space.
That is when she decided to go another route. “I knew I always wanted to learn more about the self,” Sokei said.
In her last semester before getting her B.A. degree in English, she came upon a class called Social and Political Philosophy. In this class she heard a quote from philosopher Thomas Hobbs that seemed to sum up how she was feeling at the time: who said “Life is nasty, brutish, and short.”
Because that was how she was feeling about life at that time, the quote really grabbed her attention and left her intrigued with philosophy.
And that is when she decided to get her master’s degree in philosophy and go on to teach others about it. .
“The ultimate questions in life really fascinated me,” Sokei said.
Now, Sokei encourages her students to become more open about expressing themselves about those big ideas.
With the help of the famous talking yarn ball which ball gets passed around the classroom, each student has a chance to express his or her their own thoughts or opinions, which, in turn helps classmates to better understand each other.
“Our philosophy class really benefits from an instructor that has an intense amount of knowledge with the subject matter. This class… forces you to look inside,” Philosophy 101 student Shawn Davenport said.
Sokei reassures students that it is natural to question things in life, because, ultimately, no one knows the answers to life’s questions.
“The teacher (Sokei)… “She’s amazing,” a student named Laurie said of Sokei. “She makes you feel like you really have to think about stuff, rather than her just telling you… she makes you question your own beliefs on life.”
Brown, another of Sokei’s students added: “This class is one of the reasons why I come to school. It doesn’t feel like class, it feels like everybody is just coming together to talk about life.”
Sokei makes class enjoyable by giving engaging class lectures and showing inspiring Powerpoint presentations. Sokei’s power points captivates students with quotes and music to back the points she want to make, grabbing their attention which allows them to be present and in the moment Sokei says, “Be present!”
After taking the class, students take with them, Sokei explains, “A better sense of self and happiness, a better understanding of life, a better sense of self worth, and with that, more compassion for others and making their lives better as well as everyone else’s and to see the goodness in everyone.”

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