Friday, May 28, 2010

Positive Psychology and The Importance of Studying Happiness

Though it may seem frivolous at first glance, there has been a surge of interest lately in books and courses that focus on positive psychology, or simply, what makes people happy. This subject has generated a great deal of academic interest in part because of its applications in the field of social policy. While social progress has traditionally been measured in strictly economic terms, the abundance of new research on happiness has allowed policy-makers to gauge the effectiveness of their work in different, and in some cases more useful, terms.

With the increased attention this area of psychology has generated, there have been several books published on the subject of happiness. In Curious? Todd Kashdan, a renowned psychology professor, posits that the secret to a fulfilling life is to cultivate curiosity. His thesis is encouraging: happiness is not elusive, but rather the product of challenging oneself and engaging more fully with one’s surroundings.

Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project explores the same central question as Kashdan’s book: what is it that makes us happy? But while Curious? asks the question from a scholarly perspective, The Happiness Project tackles it from a personal one. In The Happiness Project, Rubin recounts a year in which she made a new resolution every month with the goal of enhancing her outlook. Her report of the year is funny, illuminating and uplifting.

The study of happiness can be academic while also being accessible and personal. Books on happiness teach students the importance of caring for their mental health and challenging themselves intellectually, lessons that work especially well in first-year experience programs.

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