The science of happiness hits the web

Jewish Tribune
by: Suri Epstein

The elusive search for happiness is a popular topic that’s been explored through widely varying platforms. An ever-increasing number of popular self-help books continues to flood the market while the results of academic studies often don’t make their way to the public eye.

A new series launched by Jerusalem U, Habits of Happiness: Positive Psychology and Judaism, fuses popular and academic psychology and adds Jewish thought to the mix. The course is taught by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in the emerging field of positive psychology.

“Positive psychology bridges the science from academia and merges it with the accessibility of the self-help moment, finding the best of both worlds,” he said recently in a teleconference to launch the new series.

Ben-Shahar, a New York Times best-selling author and former Harvard University lecturer, earned his PhD in organizational behaviour from Harvard and is a faculty member of the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya.

“What’s unique about positive psychology and how it differs from traditional psychology is that it focusses on what works,” he said. “The assumption in therapy is to focus on the problem. Positive psychology strengthens a person’s psychological immune system. It doesn’t mean you don’t get sick, but you get sick less often and when you do you recover.”

Ben-Shahar noted that the data on mental health in the United States and the rest of the world paints a grim picture.

“We see levels of depression on the rise and stress is skyrocketing,” he said. “More medication is being given to people, but what positive psychology says is that it’ll never be enough if we just fight the symptoms. We have to create preventive measures.”

For Ben-Shahar, years of study demonstrated a strong connection with Jewish tradition.

“If you look at ancient or more modern texts, whether from Chassidut, or 20th century writers, there are so many connections,” Ben-Shahar said. “We’ve created this course to show these connections and to reach as many people as possible to make them appreciate our tradition as well as lead a happier, more fulfilled life.”

According to Rabbi Raphael Shore, CEO and founder of Jerusalem U, Jewish thought and positive psychology are a natural fit.

“There are so many parallels,” he said. “It’s astonishing that almost all the principles I’ve learned about positive psychology are reflected in our Torah.”

The series is available free to college students and at a discount for adults. For more information, visit: http://www.jerusalemu.org/.