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Old 03-10-2006, 06:25 PM   #16
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Originally posted by nbcrusader
The popularity of this course makes sense. We have transitioned from a thinking society to one that wants to feel positive.
What's wrong with feeling positive? Maybe we think too much about some things and we need help in focusing on what happiness really is. There is so much depression and unhappiness in this world, probably especially among students at a place like Harvard.

What about this quote from the article?

"studies show that optimism is a skill that can be taught and learned"
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Old 03-10-2006, 11:19 PM   #17
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I wasn't saying anything was wrong with feeling positive. Don't take my comments to suggest that we should feel negative.

Our evaluation of issues now tends to measure how one feels, sometimes by emphasizing the positive, but usually by attacking the negative.

What hit home recently was a study regarding math proficiency. US children ranked low in ability, but first in how they felt about their ability. Positive feeling can mask negative reality which, I would suggest, is a road to destruction.
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Old 03-10-2006, 11:26 PM   #18
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I think that overcoming a difficult maths problem gives a better feeling than celebrating mediocrity. That wonderful knowing feeling that you get from actually knowing something.

But given that they are people who are able to get into Harvard that probably isn't an issue.

Could it just be a bludge subject
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Old 03-11-2006, 02:56 PM   #19
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Yes, I would agree that it's no good to think you're good at something if you're not. I'm terrible at math and science, and good in art and humanities. There's no sense in deceiving myself about my non-existent math skills. In some cases math and science skills may be acqired but I never acquired these skills no matter how hard I tried.
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Old 03-11-2006, 04:41 PM   #20
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CAMBRIDGE -- The most popular course at Harvard this semester teaches happiness.

The final numbers came in this week: Positive Psychology, a class whose content resembles that of many a self-help book but is grounded in serious psychological research, has enrolled 855 students, beating out even Introductory Economics.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m., students crowd into Sanders Theatre to learn about creating, as the course description puts it, ''a fulfilling and flourishing life," courtesy of the booming new area of psychology that focuses on what makes people feel good rather than the pathologies that can make them feel miserable.

''Positive Psych may be the one class at Harvard that every student needs to take," said Nancy Cheng, a junior majoring in biology. ''In this fast-paced, competitive environment, it is especially crucial that people take time to stop and breathe. A self-help class? Maybe. . . . But from what I've seen and experienced at Harvard, I think we could all use a little self-help like this."

In the last several years, positive psychology classes have cropped up on more than 100 campuses around the country, said Shane Lopez, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, who recently co-wrote a positive psychology textbook. But with such an enormous course enrollment, Tal D. Ben-Shahar, the lecturer who teaches Harvard's course, ''is the leader of the pack right now," Lopez said.

The courses can change how you see yourself and your life, Lopez says. ''A lot of people are just not accustomed to asking, 'What do I have going for me?' and 'What did I do right today?' "

Marty Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania professor who is considered the father of positive psychology for his scholarship and efforts to promote it, said he saw a similar groundswell when he offered a course in 2003. He sees the student enthusiasm as reflecting the tremendous appeal of the positive psychology movement in society at large.

''When nations are wealthy and not in civil turmoil and not at war, then I think, like Florence of the 15th century, they start asking what makes life worth living, and that's what positive psychology is about," he said in a phone interview.

Among the research findings that support the idea that happy people function better: A study of aging nuns found that those with a positive outlook in their 20s lived as much as a decade longer than those with a negative outlook, and people who were asked to keep a diary every night for six months, recording things that had gone well that day, fared better in measures of happiness, optimism, and physical health than those who did not.

Furthermore, studies show that optimism is a skill that can be taught and learned.

On Tuesday, midway through the lecture, the lights dimmed and Ben-Shahar led the assembled hundreds of students through a couple of minutes of meditation, asking them to focus on their breathing and on releasing the tension in their bodies.

''Just let go," he said. ''Experience whatever experience you're having. Just let it be. Give it permission, give yourself permission to just be."

A few deep sighs of relief could be heard.

It was an astonishing scene in the hard-driving academic atmosphere of Harvard. Despite the short weekly papers, two exams, a final project, and required readings from hard-core psychology texts and journals, the course seems a bit like brain candy, compared to Harvard's usual academic fare. Some students do see it as a ''gut," according to an article in the Harvard Crimson's magazine.

But Ben-Shahar argues that if the course seems easy, it is because it holds such great relevance to students' own lives, which they naturally are fascinated by. ''Most things we find interesting, we also find easy," he said.

''My goal is to create a bridge between the Ivory Tower and Main Street, to bring together the rigor of academia and the accessibility of self-help," he said. ''If the class has a rigorous academic foundation, which it does, then why not try to help people lead better lives?"

It certainly does not hurt that Ben-Shahar, 35, raised in Israel and educated at Harvard, tells deeply personal stories to illustrate points. On Tuesday, he described how, in his senior year at Harvard, he won his dream fellowship, only to start worrying the next day about why he hadn't won a better one instead. The moral: How you see things can matter more than what actually happens.

He also shares catchy phrases: ''Learn to fail or fail to learn," for instance, and ''not 'it happened for the best,' but 'how can I make the best of what happened?' "

He also spoke about routes to personal change, wondering aloud about post-traumatic stress disorder, in which a single trauma can damage a person for life. Might it be possible to create the opposite phenomenon?

He proposed that perhaps a single glorious, ecstatic experience could change a person for the better for life -- and went on to describe how students might increase the likelihood of such an experience and its aftermath, from cultivating a sense of gratitude for the beautiful things in their lives to taking the time to really listen to music.

Students left the 90-minute-long class cheering and smiling.

After Positive Psychology, Harvard's next most popular course this semester is an economics class with 669 students; and the third most popular class is another psychology course taught by Ben-Shahar that has 550 students.

Between his two courses, Ben-Shahar is teaching more than 1,400 students. Although some may be taking both classes, it appears Ben-Shahar is teaching at least a fifth of Harvard College's undergraduate population of about 6,500.

But despite the clear appeal he holds for students, Ben-Shahar is not on the track to tenure and is not seeking to get there.

To qualify for tenure, he would have to conduct and publish original research. But research is not where his interests lie, he said.

''My passion is teaching," he said. ''So that's what I'll do."
Do I hear the sound of a bird chirping?
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Old 03-11-2006, 05:58 PM   #21
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interesting thread. while it is easy to put a spin on this that it's a sign we've become more superficial or less willing to explore "deep issues," the field of positive psychology has very important implications for human well-being. one of my close friends won the Positive Psychology national award last year from her work, and she does research on psychoneuroimmunology (a mouthful, i know). positive affective states have critically important implications for health and for the immune system. so it isn't all just blue skies and birds chirping. lots of academic literature shows the relationship between mind and body is mediated by emotions. conversely, negative emotions have negative impacts on recovery from surgery, morbidity rates (how often people get sick), and even mortality rates. Depression is strongly correlated with higher rates of heart disease, for example.
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Old 03-12-2006, 01:54 AM   #22
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intro econ

Positive Psych, eh? I like to take psych classes, mainly because the professors are well-rounded, their expectations are very clear. There's three exams and some final project/thesis/paper (if you're in an intro level, you have to be a subject in two experiments, instead of doing them). No taking class attendance points or requiring class participation. Plus, it's relatively interesting to me even though it's not part of my major or minor.
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Old 03-12-2006, 04:14 AM   #23
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My advisor has mentioned that Positive Psychology is the latest trend in the field, and Seligman, who is mentioned in the article as being "the father of..." is very reknowned. Rather than focusing on psychopathologies, I think it's great that they're looking at the other end of the spectrum - creating and maintaining a sense of well-being. It's a shame that the professor teaching is not interested in research, because it's an area that's ripe for it, with many areas to explore and questions that need to be answered.

As for kids ranking low in math, but feeling good about what they've done - is this such a bad thing? Studies have shown that in learning, children who feel positively about the work they're doing do tend to perform better academically. It's possible that if they didn't feel positively, their math scores may have been worse. It's also possible that along with their positive feelings, there might be a tendency toward future improvement in their math skills.
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Old 03-12-2006, 05:07 AM   #24
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And what of those who put in the effort? What is their incentive when praise is given uniformly? Well I guess that it balances out in the end because no matter how good they feel about themselves they won't be getting into situations where those skills are prerequisites.

I am not a big fan of self-esteem, self confidence from deed is way better.
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Old 03-12-2006, 05:36 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer
And what of those who put in the effort? What is their incentive when praise is given uniformly? Well I guess that it balances out in the end because no matter how good they feel about themselves they won't be getting into situations where those skills are prerequisites.

I am not a big fan of self-esteem, self confidence from deed is way better.
Unless I read the example wrong, which is possible given the late hour, I didn't see that effort or praise were part of the measurement. Just because someone scored low or high is no indication of effort put forth. The low scorers could be putting just as much or more effort into their work, but getting lower results because of less natural inclination toward math. Ideally, all incentive to do well should be due to intrinsic motivation, the inner satisfaction that one gets from a job well done. So, if a C student who works really hard ends up with a C+, whereas an A student who coasts gets an A+, does that mean the C student should feel bad about their performace and the A student should feel good, and that if the C student feels good, they're delusional? Not at all, in my estimation.

I'm probably not making a bit of sense. I should go to bed.
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Old 03-12-2006, 09:27 AM   #26
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Doug, I'd be careful about separating "thinking" and "feeling" so neatly and clearly (maybe you drew the contrast more sharply than you intended). Not singling you out here--this false division is *deeply* ingrained in Western thought. But much research shows that "the affective domain" (ie, emotions) play a huge role in deep, meaningful learning.
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Old 03-13-2006, 09:58 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally posted by nbcrusader
The popularity of this course makes sense. We have transitioned from a thinking society to one that wants to feel positive.


aren't we reading just a little bit too much into this?

also, isn't "the pursuit of happiness" in the declaration of independence? in fact, i'd say those are rather revolutionary words, and something that does make American society different.
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Old 03-13-2006, 11:09 AM   #28
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aren't we reading just a little bit too much into this?
Perhaps for this particular subject.
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Old 03-13-2006, 12:22 PM   #29
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i suppose one thing i've learned as i'm getting deeper and deeper into my career is that, if anything, actual happiness is perhaps underrated -- there's a lot to be said for being able to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and feel good about yourself and what you are doing each and every day.

a few years ago, i would never have listed happiness as a life goal for myself; i would have focused on accomplishments (everything from, say, having gone trekking in Tibet to learning several languages to stuff more career-oriented ).

now, with some real world experience under my belt, i know enough to know that if you aren't happy, none of the above will either make you happy, nor will you be able to enjoy them if you aren't happy. an
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Old 03-13-2006, 12:41 PM   #30
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Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer

I am not a big fan of self-esteem, self confidence from deed is way better.
Just speaking from my personal experience, I don't think it's all that possible to have self confidence without having self esteem first. Sure you can try something you don't think you can do and that gives you self-confidence, but what gives you the courage to try?

I think a healthy level of self-esteem is the primary key to happiness. Sure you can try all the "happiness tips" that this professor is espousing, but without the foundation of healthy self-esteem, why would you care and what good would it do?

I think people are hungering for knowledge about how to "fix themselves" and feel better about themselves. Even at Harvard - maybe many students there are really hiding very poor self-esteem. I would bet that they are.
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