By Randall P. Lieberman
It's easy to see why Israeli native Tal Ben-Shahar was considered possibly the most popular professor ever at Harvard University.
Ben-Shahar spoke recently at three special seminars on happiness, titled "Habits of Happiness," which he presented to the South Florida community at the Boca RatonSynagogue in Boca Raton, the Littman Theater in North Miami Beach and Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach.
Ben-Shahar, a best-selling author and a world-renowned expert on happiness, has a complete command of the scientific field of positive psychology (for which he can rattle off results of a multitude of scientific experiments), yet he speaks in everyday language with humility, humor, insight and poise about how to help people live happier, more fulfilling lives.
While it may be quite awhile until Ben-Shahar comes to South Florida again to speak in person, one could read about his philosophy and approaches toward achieving greater happiness through his two international best-selling books: "Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment" (2007) and "Being Happy: You Don't Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life" (2010).
Another way one can follow the work of Ben-Shahar will be through Jerusalem U, an online company which will soon be offering a film series, "Habits of Happiness," which is a video course based on Ben-Shahar's teachings.
Said Matthew Weisbaum, managing director of Jerusalem U: "Jerusalem U is a leading online portal, founded in 2009, for Jewish distance learning. Jerusalem U has a vision to transform Jewish and Israel education for the 21st century, and to inspire, unify and activate people of all ages as passionate supporters of Israel and the Jewish people. We expect Tal Ben-Shahar to be one of the mainstays of our company."
The main point Ben-Shahar stressed in his presentation is the importance of the questions you are asking and how that helps frame the point of reference you are looking at your life through.
Beh-Shahar said: "If you start with a question with a negative premise, it is designed to lead you to look at what you are not doing right, which will make you feel bad about your answers and thereby yourself. But, if you start with a question with a positive premise, then it is designed to look at your strengths, which will make you feel good about your answers and yourself."
Clearly, the second path is the preferred option here.
While Ben-Shahar was quick to point out it is a natural part of life to have ups and downs, he said positive psychology and maintaining a positive attitude helps you to not get so low and to bounce back quicker. He likened it to the "immune system of the mind and spirit."
Ben-Shahar adeptly illustrated his point with the example of the sociological and psychological studies of underachieving kids from impoverished neighborhoods in the United States.
Ben-Shahar said that when the sociologists and psychologists asked the question: "Why are so many kids failing in these areas?," they had no impact at all in bringing about change — no matter how much time and money they invested in trying to solve the problem.
However when sociologists and psychologists started using "positive psychology" to ask what made some kids successful in these areas despite tough conditions, it became much easier to identify characteristics of success which could then be taught to other children.
When asked what helpful pointers she took from the lecture, Erica Maitman of North Miami Beach, said: "I learned about the importance of making daily gratitude lists at the end of each day. I learned how to focus on three things you are looking forward to at the beginning of each day. And I learned to make sure that you and your partner regularly tell each other what you appreciate about each other."
Ben-Shahar, born in 1970 near Tel Aviv, currently teaches at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Herzliya, Israel. Previously, he taught at Harvard, where his classes on "Positive Psychology — The Science of Happiness" and "The Psychology of Leadership" were among the most popular courses in the university's history.
The original article on Sun Sentinel was published here.