“Happiness” classes in the United States
Positive psychology made the cover of TIME Magazine in 2005, highlighting the notion that psychology should not only focus on the ails of the human mind but also the ways to make it flourish. Two years later, a positive psychology course at Harvard also received international attention. “We initially were on the Harvard Crimson, then the Boston Globe, soon after that, it was everywhere,” recalls Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, author of bestseller Happier and then-instructor of Harvard’s Positive Psychology 1504. Based on the key messages of positive psychology, his class focused on helping students realize their own weaknesses as well as their strengths, which can be done, according to his words, by asking “different questions.” “Questions create our reality by defining our reality,” Ben-Shahar said. “Positive psychology comes, actually, to correct the wrongs that have been committed by focusing primarily and exclusively on the problems that aren’t working.” Many schools continue to run positive psychology classes for their students. Top colleges like Yale and Stanford are starting to teach students lead a happier life. The course, Psychology 157: Psychology and the Good Life, has been especially successful and became the school’s most popular class. “People talk about Harvard and Yale because it’s Harvard and Yale. But everywhere where it’s taught, positive psychology, potentially, is the biggest class,” said Ben-Shahar. “It’s not the messenger, it’s the message that’s making the difference.”
Did you know there is a happiness course at Ewha?
How to be Happy” first opened in 2013 by professor Kim Hyo-gun from Ewha School of Business. Based on the principles of positive psychology, he has been teaching students his 12 Happiness Recipes.
What is the difference between your class and its predecessors in western countries?
Famous classes like “Science of Happiness” focuses on systematic, scientific knowledge delivery. However, the classroom cultures between the two countries are quite different. Our students don’t voluntarily start discussions after a lecture, or apply the things taught in class to their own lives. Ewha students did not learn happiness just by being taught facts about happiness, so we added more activities like brain training and self-reflections. We now spend the entire half of each semester on practicing Happiness Recipes in each students' lives.
As business school professor, why did you decide to open a class related to psychology?
Western philosophy tends to see humans as means, just like the term “human resource” we often see in business textbooks. Eastern ways of thinking is more human-oriented. However, the rapid transformations our society underwent to mimic western capitalism has rid us of all the good bits of our traditions. T h e g o a l o f b u s i n e s s administration has been the maximization of utility for the last hundred years, but I realized that we would never be able to answer the big questions in life this way. It’s hard to say this in one sentence, but, I just wanted people to become happier.