Am I the last person to learn of this book called "Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment," by super-popular Harvard lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar? From what I've read about the book, Ben-Shahar advises people to defer gratification and count their blessings. The way he frames things is very clever. Instead of feeling that you must do something (like yoga every morning), you think of what will make you happier (like doing yoga every morning) and you do it. Harvard students considered (he's not teaching this year) his course to be easy but also life-changing. And there were only nineteen sleepers observed in four class sessions, out of about 845 bodies in each audience, according to the student newspaper. Ben-Shahar is part of the positive psychology movement, which we Anxious Ones look at askance. And he is or at least was a follower of the thinking of Ayn Rand, the queen of libertarian meritocracy. It is easy to tell Harvard students they should be happy.* It is harder to make a convincing case to the downtrodden. I guess that's what religion's for--to convince the poor and powerless that they'll be happy in the bye and bye. And no matter--the downtrodden don't shell out money for hardcovers, anyway.
But I guess I should read the book. For all I know, he might advocate seizing the means of production as a way for the proletariat to find happiness. Quien sabe? Even so, Joe Hill said it first: Don't mourn--organize!

*Though a friend of mine who went to Harvard says that being a graduate means that you feel like an underachiever ever after.


Anonymous said...

The positive psych movement makes me retch. They cherry-pick (or is it cheery-pick in this case) their research. Although there's lots of research showing psychological and physical benefits to things like optimism, there is also research showing psychological and physical benefits to certain kinds of pessimism. In short, what works for some people doesn't work for others and--this is an especially pernicious side-effect of the positive psych movement--what works for some people is actually harmful to others. Positive psych people are Norman Vincent Peale redux. He dressed his happy talk in religion and they dress their happy talk in selected research. The only valid response to people who tell you to be happy because it will help your health is to stomp firmly on their instep and ask them how happy they are now.

This book by Ben-Shahar sounds like he's adapting Buddhism--a solution I personally like much better for myself than positive psych--in an effort to make it sound new. Fotr better stuff on happiness I recommend Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness

Dan said...

from the great Tale of a Tub, J. Swift: happiness "is a perpetual Possession of being well Deceived."