Happiness at Harvard

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Harvard students would seem to have it made in the shade. They are all winners of an intense competition for admission, and their collective career prospects could not be brighter. But a new course, "Positive Psychology," teaching how to be happy, is now the most popular course on campus. The Boston Globe reports:

Positive Psychology, a class whose content resembles that of many a self—help book but is grounded in serious psychological research, has enrolled 855 students, beating out even Introductory Economics.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m., students crowd into Sanders Theatre to learn about creating, as the course description puts it, ''a fulfilling and flourishing life," courtesy of the booming new area of psychology that focuses on what makes people feel good rather than the pathologies that can make them feel miserable.

It may be, to paraphrase Dennis Prager, that for Harvard students happiness is a serious problem. Perhaps in their relentless drive to succeed they have forgotten about happiness, and are now filling a gap in their educations. But maybe there's something else at awork:

It was an astonishing scene in the hard—driving academic atmosphere of Harvard. Despite the short weekly papers, two exams, a final project, and required readings from hard—core psychology texts and journals, the course seems a bit like brain candy, compared to Harvard's usual academic fare. Some students do see it as a ''gut," according to an article in the Harvard Crimson's magazine.

But Ben—Shahar [the instructor] argues that if the course seems easy, it is because it holds such great relevance to students' own lives, which they naturally are fascinated by. ''Most things we find interesting, we also find easy," he said.

Professors are not paid on a per—capita basis. And Ben—Shahar is not on the tenure tarck at Harvard. Time will tell whether or not Positive Psychology becomes a serious rival to introductory economics as a fixture of undergraduate life at Harvard or elsewhere.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky

Thomas Lifson   3 10 06

Harvard students would seem to have it made in the shade. They are all winners of an intense competition for admission, and their collective career prospects could not be brighter. But a new course, "Positive Psychology," teaching how to be happy, is now the most popular course on campus. The Boston Globe reports:

Positive Psychology, a class whose content resembles that of many a self—help book but is grounded in serious psychological research, has enrolled 855 students, beating out even Introductory Economics.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m., students crowd into Sanders Theatre to learn about creating, as the course description puts it, ''a fulfilling and flourishing life," courtesy of the booming new area of psychology that focuses on what makes people feel good rather than the pathologies that can make them feel miserable.

It may be, to paraphrase Dennis Prager, that for Harvard students happiness is a serious problem. Perhaps in their relentless drive to succeed they have forgotten about happiness, and are now filling a gap in their educations. But maybe there's something else at awork:

It was an astonishing scene in the hard—driving academic atmosphere of Harvard. Despite the short weekly papers, two exams, a final project, and required readings from hard—core psychology texts and journals, the course seems a bit like brain candy, compared to Harvard's usual academic fare. Some students do see it as a ''gut," according to an article in the Harvard Crimson's magazine.

But Ben—Shahar [the instructor] argues that if the course seems easy, it is because it holds such great relevance to students' own lives, which they naturally are fascinated by. ''Most things we find interesting, we also find easy," he said.

Professors are not paid on a per—capita basis. And Ben—Shahar is not on the tenure tarck at Harvard. Time will tell whether or not Positive Psychology becomes a serious rival to introductory economics as a fixture of undergraduate life at Harvard or elsewhere.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky

Thomas Lifson   3 10 06