Posts Tagged ‘Harvard University’

Against all the odds, the world is becoming a happier place

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Despite deepening economic gloom and impending climatic destruction the world is becoming a happier place, according to an analysis of quarter of a century of data on wellbeing from 45 countries around the globe. The finding goes against the received wisdom that a country’s economic advances do not translate into increased wellbeing among its citizens.

The researchers who compiled the data believe increasing levels of happiness were not picked up until now because studies have tended to focus on rich countries where increases in wealth make little difference to their citizens’ satisfaction with life.

“The classic view, which we are not disputing, is that there are diminishing marginal returns to economic development,” said Roberto Foa at Harvard University. “So for initial levels of economic development people are escaping subsistence poverty and people’s subjective levels of happiness will increase.”

Click here for the full article.

If you’re ever having trouble coming up with one more happy thought to complete your five happy thoughts per day, just remember that the world is becoming a happier place.  That’s bound to make you smile.

-MJ

They Teach Happiness at Harvard

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

An entire industry has been built up around the pursuit of happiness. A stroll past any bookstore window demonstrates the explosive popularity of the feel-good, self-help movements of recent years. And whether these products are genuine paths to ultimate happiness or just pleasure-peddling scams, the trend seems likely to hold.

Now, even the Ivy League is getting in on the act, layering serious academic research onto the pop-psychology phenomenon to develop a “science of happiness.” Known as “positive psychology,” the field was pioneered at the University of Pennsylvania and came to Harvard a decade ago when an elective course on the topic was first taught.

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Woo hoo!  Tal Ben-Shahar made it into BusinessWeek!  You do know that Butter Bee Happy’s “write 5 happy thoughts a day” idea came from Ben-Shahar’s book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, right?  Well, if you didn’t, you do now.  We BBHers LOVE Ben-Shahar!

I think it’s very interesting that Ben-Shahar’s class became so popular at Harvard.  I wonder if it would have had as much or more success at another university that was less academically stressful?   I don’t know anyone currently enrolled at Harvard, but I have had friends who attended Yale, Princeton, and MIT, and they often mentioned how much stress their classes caused them.  I know they were learning a lot and being very productive, but they didn’t seem as happy as some of my other friends who attended more relaxed, less competitive universities.  Maybe students at Harvard needed a class on happiness more than students at other universities needed one.  What do you think?

-MJ

The Secrets To Happiness

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Daniel Gilbert, PhD, a Harvard psychologist, says that Americans do a tremendous amount of “miswanting.” We keep wanting things that will never make us happy. For example, practically everyone wants to be rich and thin. Yet, he points out, studies show that having enough money for the basic necessities of life–food, clothing, and shelter, which cost maybe $40,000 a year–is all we really need for happiness. The effect of the next $10 million is negligible.

This tells us that although we fervently believe that something we can touch, like piles of cash or cellulite-free thighs, is going to light up our hearts, the truth is that we usually don’t know what will make us happy. Worse, we don’t know that we don’t know, so we ardently pursue the wrong things.

Click here for the full article.

I think relationships provide an excellent example of miswanting.  Have you ever longed for or loved someone who actualy made you miserable?  I bet you have, or know someone who has.

Take as an example Philip*, whose girlfriend is hated by all his friends because she only uses Philip for his money, or Sonia*, whose boyfriend regularly cheats on her and verbally abuses her.  But Philip and Sonia say that they love their girlfriend and boyfriend, and want to remain with them, regardless of the misery these relationships cause.  I would call this miswanting – they desperately want and pursue someone who, ultimately, will not make them happy.

-MJ

*Names and situations are fictional.

Happiness is … not having children?

Monday, May 12th, 2008

The belief that children and money will bring people happiness is one of life’s abiding illusions, a Sydney conference attended by 2000 seekers of happiness was told yesterday.

The scientific evidence shows people are very bad at predicting what will make them happy, said Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of the book Stumbling On Happiness. He said people’s happiness goes into steep decline after they have children, and never recovers its old level until the children leave home. As a source of pleasure, playing with one’s offspring rates just above doing housework but below talking with friends, eating, or watching TV, research has shown.

Yet people invest so much time and money in their children, and focus on the fleeting moments of joy they bring, rather than on the long periods of boredom and irritation, that most continue to believe children will bring them happiness, Professor Gilbert said.

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Can You Predict Happiness?

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

If you think you can predict what you will like, think again. When people try to estimate how much they will enjoy a future experience, they are dependably wrong, according to research by Harvard psychologists — and the reason is something they call “attentional collapse.” When we imagine future experiences, we tend to compare them with alternative experiences — experiences we’ve had in the past, or other experiences we might have before or after. But the fact is that none of those alternatives come into play once we’re actually in the moment. That’s what Daniel Gilbert, author and Harvard psychology professor, means by “attentional collapse”: it’s the idea that when we are actually having an engaging, encompassing experience, it acts like a black hole of imagination, sucking in all of our attention and making our preconceptions irrelevant.

The thought of a weekend office picnic, for example, sounds tedious compared with a trip to the spa, but fun compared with working overtime on a Sunday. But these comparisons have little bearing on our actual experience of the picnic because once we arrive and start chatting with colleagues or playing softball, the experience draws our attention away from the alternatives. “The kinds of comparisons we’re making when we’re imagining the future aren’t the kinds we make when we get there,” Gilbert says.

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