Diane Wallner Pauly

How one woman who survived sexual and physical abuse is now teaching classes about happiness

Mark Johnson

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Mark Johnson, while reporting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote an article on the story of my life. Mark is now a writer for The Washington Post.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Diane Wallner PaulyA survivor of physical and sexual abuse, divorce and a period when she had to live on welfare, Diane Pauly drew on those experiences when she developed her college class.
A class called “Happiness.”

Pauly’s parents had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They were loving and caring, but both struggled with alcohol.

Pauly said she was sexually abused in second grade by a babysitter and in sixth grade by her father’s friend. Her dad, who ran a tavern at one point, sometimes forced her to kneel on a hard wooden board until her knees ached.

She got married at 17 and stayed in the marriage for 19 years, despite her husband’s multiple affairs, and minimal help in raising their four daughters. After divorcing him, Pauly stayed single for 11 years before remarrying.

“It was during those 11 years that I learned I was a person,” she said.

In her mid-thirties, Pauly earned her GED, then went to college. She knew she wanted to do something special with her life. Gradually, an idea came to her. She would design and teach a course on happiness.

Pauly began teaching the eight- to 10-week night course in 1995 at what was then known as the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan.

How do you teach happiness to people?

Pauly brought humorous cartoons to class to emphasize the importance of laughter. She had students carry around heavy bags of apples and oranges on both shoulders to represent the burdens people take on in life. Then she had them put down the bags and describe how they felt.

She asked them to talk about things that made them happy when they were children. Later they made collages depicting the things that made them feel good as adults. Some people might wonder, given her background, how Pauly was able to teach other people how to be happy.

Pauly put it this way: “You need to educate yourself to look at life. We’re given so much on a silver platter. We need to wake up and be aware that we create our own happiness.”

Mark Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter is currently with the Washington Post.