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Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is an internationally renowned teacher and author in the fields of happiness and leadership. After graduating from Harvard with a BA in Philosophy and Psychology and a[…]
  • We study medicine, psychology, history, and geography but not happiness. This makes no sense, if happiness is one of life’s most important goals.
  • Many people believe that happiness is superficial — the absence of pain and the pursuit of pleasure. But a happy life is not necessarily devoid of pain. 
  • Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard’s “happiness professor,” says that the science of happiness can introduce us to new ways of thinking that will lead to contentment.

TAL BEN-SHAHAR: Back in 2015, I was on a transatlantic flight when a question came to mind: How is it that there is a field of study for psychology, philosophy, history, medicine, geography, you name it and there is no field of study for happiness? Yeah, there is positive psychology but that's just the psychology of happiness. What about what philosophers like Lao Tzu or Aristotle had to say about it? What about what literature remarked on happiness or neuroscience or theology or economics? Why isn't there an interdisciplinary field of study that looks at life's ultimate highest goal? I resolved on that flight to help create a field dedicated to the study of happiness. 

There are two main critiques that people have for the field of happiness studies. The first one is that it's superficial. The reason is that they equate happiness with pleasure. So when people say, "Oh, I went to the beach. I was so happy," or, "This ice cream just makes me happy," well, that's not happiness. That is pleasure. Happiness is much more than pleasure. It also includes our ability to deal with painful experiences, finding a sense of meaning and purpose, cultivating healthy relationships, and intellectual development. The second critique of the field of happiness stems from the false understanding that a happy life is a life devoid of painful emotions. It's not. It can never be. Part of a happy life is the vicissitudes of daily life. 

Overall, happiness includes life's ups and downs. The signs of happiness can strengthen our psychological immune system. Because as I see it, the role of the science of happiness is first of all, to introduce us to concepts like post-traumatic growth, which is growing stronger as a result of hardship. And second, to teach us what conditions we can put in place in our homes, in our organizations, in our schools, in our countries to increase the likelihood of growing from hardship. Hardship is inevitable. What we do with our hardship, well, here we have a choice.

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