Monday, January 08, 2007

Happiness, Happiness, Happiness

[8 January 2007 - Steve Dahlberg] It looks like 2007 is going to be the year of happiness, well-being and positive psychology -- or at least the popular exploration of these topics. Scientists and academics are studying the impact of positive emotions and happiness on our personal lives and our surroundings. Economists are looking at how to measure the happiness and well-being of a community, in addition to traditional measures of financial outcomes and impacts. All of these areas promise a balance to our typical focus on "fixing" what's wrong or broken with our lives, our organizations and our communities. The time is here for also focusing on what's good, what works and what we are best at.

Teaching Happiness
[8 January 2007 - WBUR - On Point] If doing for others is the road to happiness, New York's Wesley Autry, who jumped on to subway tracks to save a man's life last week, ought to be the happiest guy on the planet these days. But what about the rest of us? A new science of happiness is attempting to pin down what really lifts the spirit -- to measure it, and to teach it. Happier people live longer. They get fewer colds. They have better relationships and do more for others. Since the time of the ancients, we've had advice on the good life. Now, after a century of measuring well-being by the march of economic indicators, psychologists are saying let's measure and teach well-being itself. More

Happiness 101
[7 Janurary 2007 - New York Times Magazine] More than 200 colleges and graduate schools in the United States offer classes like the one at George Mason. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Barbara Fredrickson passes out notebooks with clouds on a powdery blue cover for each student. At the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, students pass out chocolates and handwritten notes to school custodians and secretaries. The introductory positive-psychology class at Harvard attracted 855 students last spring, making it the most popular class at the school. “I teach my class on two levels,” says Tal Ben-Shahar, the instructor. “It’s like a regular academic course. The second level is where they ask the question, How can I apply this to my life?” True, the course is known as a gut, but it is also significant that 23 percent of the students who commented on it in the undergraduate evaluation guide said that it had improved their lives. ... Positive psychology brings the same attention to positive emotions (happiness, pleasure, well-being) that clinical psychology has always paid to the negative ones (depression, anger, resentment). Psychoanalysis once promised to turn acute human misery into ordinary suffering; positive psychology promises to take mild human pleasure and turn it into a profound state of well-being. “Under certain circumstances, people — they’re not desperate or in misery — they start to wonder what’s the best thing life can offer,” says Martin Seligman, one of the field’s founders, who heads the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Thus positive psychology is not only about maximizing personal happiness but also about embracing civic engagement and spiritual connectedness, hope and charity. “Aristotle taught us virtue isn’t virtue unless you choose it,” Seligman says. More

The Science of Happiness
[January-February 2007 - Harvard Magazine] For much of its history, psychology has seemed obsessed with human failings and pathology. The very idea of psychotherapy, first formalized by Freud, rests on a view of human beings as troubled creatures in need of repair. Freud himself was profoundly pessimistic about human nature, which he felt was governed by deep, dark drives that we could only tenuously control. The behaviorists who followed developed a model of human life that seemed to many mechanistic if not robotic: humans were passive beings mercilessly shaped by the stimuli and the contingent rewards and punishments that surrounded them. After World War II, psychologists tried to explain how so many ordinary citizens could have acquiesced in fascism, and did work epitomized in the 1950 classic The Authoritarian Personality by T.W. Adorno, et al. Social psychologists followed on, demonstrating in laboratories how malleable people are. Some of the most famous experiments proved that normal folk could become coldly insensitive to suffering when obeying “legitimate” orders or cruelly sadistic when playing the role of prison guard. Research funders invested in subjects like conformity, neurosis, and depression. A watershed moment arrived in 1998, when University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman, in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association, urged psychology to “turn toward understanding and building the human strengths to complement our emphasis on healing damage.” That speech launched today’s positive psychology movement. “When I met Marty Seligman [in 1977], he was the world’s leading scholar on ‘learned helplessness’ and depression,” says Vaillant. “He became the world’s leading scholar on optimism.” Though not denying humanity’s flaws, the new tack of positive psychologists recommends focusing on people’s strengths and virtues as a point of departure. Rather than analyze the psychopathology underlying alcoholism, for example, positive psychologists might study the resilience of those who have managed a successful recovery—for example, through Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead of viewing religion as a delusion and a crutch, as did Freud, they might identify the mechanisms through which a spiritual practice like meditation enhances mental and physical health. Their lab experiments might seek to define not the conditions that induce depraved behavior, but those that foster generosity, courage, creativity, and laughter. More

Happiness (and how to measure it)
[December 23, 2006-January 5, 2007 - The Economist]
  • Affluence: Capitalism can make a soceity rich and keep it free. Don't ask it to make you happy as well. More
  • Happiness and Economics: Economics discovers its feelings. Not quite as dismal as it was. More

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