Teaching Happiness: The Science, the Philosophy, and the Hype

9/23/2011: Debra Park and Mark Setton jointly presented at the Atlantic Coast Teaching of Psychology conference in Long Branch, NJ, on the topic “Teaching Happiness: The Science, the Philosophy, and the Hype.” The “take home” message of the presentation was as follows:

• 1. Some remarkable links exist between Positive Psychology and philosophy, and especially Asian philosophy. Some of the subjective insights of “great thinkers” seem to coincide with the objective conclusions of scientific studies on happiness.
• 2. These links can invigorate the teaching of psychology.
This is because
a) the topic of happiness is intrinsically motivating
b) philosophical insights on happiness can complement psychological theory by relating such theory to the “big questions,” ie core existential issues such as happiness, depression, and how to live the “meaningful life.”
• 3. Positive Psychology is a new field, and still maturing in terms of empirical methodology.
• 4. Positive Psychology tends to focus on certain topics such as positive thinking, including gratitude and optimism, but scientists are discovering correlates of happiness that extend beyond the boundaries of PP, including aerobic exercise, volunteering, etc.
As a result, usage of the term “Science of Happiness” could be appropriate to the teaching of psychology in schools.

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