Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom

Tal Ben-Shahar i i

hide captionTal Ben-Shahar teaches a class on what he calls "how to get happy." The best advice? Simplify, he says.

Tovia Smith, NPR
Tal Ben-Shahar

Tal Ben-Shahar teaches a class on what he calls "how to get happy." The best advice? Simplify, he says.

Tovia Smith, NPR

At Harvard University this semester, students are flocking to a new class that might give them some insight into the secret to happiness. Psychology 1504, or "Positive Psychology," has become the most popular course on campus.

Twice a week, some 900 students attend Tal Ben-Shahar's class on what he calls "how to get happy." He achieved personal happiness by taking himself off the tenure track — because not having to publish makes him happy. His class offers research from the relatively new field of positive psychology, which focuses on what makes people happy, rather than just their pathologies.

Six Tips for Happiness

Advice from Tal Ben-Shahar.

1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions — such as fear, sadness, or anxiety — as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

4. Simplify! We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.

5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do — or don't do — with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.

6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.

Books Featured In This Story

The Question of Happiness
The Question of Happiness

On Finding Meaning, Pleasure, and the Ultimate Currency

by Tal Ben-Shahar

Paperback, 112 pages | purchase

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Purchase Featured Books

  • The Question of Happiness
  • On Finding Meaning, Pleasure, and the Ultimate Currency
  • Tal Ben-Shahar

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