Harvard teaches students how to be happy

By Jennifer Davis
February 15, 2007

In the spring of 2006, approximately 855 Harvard students gathered for one of the most popular Ivy League courses. Indeed, every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m., Tal Ben-Shahar relies on the basic elements of happiness to teach a course called Positive Psychology. It has become a growing interest among students.

“Many of the things that I teach are common sense, but unfortunately, common sense is not all that common,” Shahar states. Positive Psychology is a course that focuses on the mind-body connection, goal setting, relationships, gratitude, self-esteem and love.

Now 35, Shahar illustrates deep personal stories within his lectures. Originally from Israel, Shahar went on to Harvard to receive his degree is philosophy and psychology. Through reflection he believes and teaches his students on the basis of catchy phrases such as “fail to learn or learn to fail.”

In the eyes of adjunct instructor in psychology Maria W. Hartke, a positive psychology course at Cabrini is worth a try.

“It is certainly worth doing because you easily are ruled by negative thoughts,” she said.

Questions have arisen that the reason why Shahar’s course is so popular is because it is just too easy. According to Shahar’s statement to the Boston Globe in March 2006, he argues that we find interest in things we can relate to ourselves “Most things we find interesting, we also find easy,” he said.

The threshold into college can be both shocking and welcoming. Sophomore special education major Lauren Tice came to Cabrini from a larger high school in Marlton, N.J. She believes that the initial induction into college can bring about a lot of stress.

“You are entering an entirely new environment with new people; it can be a huge shock. A course like this could be great for incoming students,” she said.

In his 90-minute weekly lesson, Shahar addresses the transition through “6 Simple Tips for Happiness.” For a small sneak preview here are a few of his bullet points:

1.) Give yourself permission to be human. Come to the realization that rejecting natural emotions leads to frustration and unhappiness.

2.) Simplify. We are generally too busy to squeeze in excess amounts of activities. Quantity influences quality and sometimes we do too much.

3.) Express gratitude whenever possible. Be appreciative of the people and wonderful things in your life and never forget to smile.

Freshman undecided major Gina Nicotera truly believes that a course like this at Cabrini could have very positive results.

“This course would help students deal with everyday issues and give them a better outlook on life,” she said.

For most individuals, college is the intermediate state after high school and before the induction into the working world. By broadening educational knowledge, maturing students learn to adapt within their environment.

In regards to course offerings such as Positive Psychology, freshman English and communication major Lauren Baukus believes that a college education should be based on more then just academic credentials.

“This is a course in which you could value and take with you after your standard degree certification,” she said.

Like song artist Bob Marley, Tal Ben-Shahar balances his curriculum on the basis of this whistling tune, “Here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note, don’t worry, be happy. in every life we have some trouble,

when you worry you make it double don’t worry, be happy…”

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Jennifer Davis

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