Rand Admirer Teaching Positive Psych at Harvard

Yesterday’s Harvard Crimson has a long and terrific article — The Science of Smiling — about Tal Ben-Shahar’s psychology classes at Harvard.

One of Harvard’s most popular and successful lecturers, Ben-Shahar is a long-time admirer of Ayn Rand’s work, and even founded the Harvard Objectivist Club as an undergraduate.

He views his positive psychology class as an opportunity to teach life-affirming values:

â??I want to reawaken peopleâ??s desire to do good, peopleâ??s desire to improve their lives and the lives of others,â? Ben-Shahar says. â??Is it naïve? I donâ??t think so. The greatest things in the world were achieved through people who were discarded very often as idealists, as naïve. I think these are the kinds of people who ultimately make a difference. And there are many of them here at Harvard, and there can be many more.â?

Indeed, almost every other class at Harvard teaches students how to think well, how to read well, and how to write well. Shouldnâ??t someone be teaching them how to live well, too?

And:

[The psychology department's other] classes are highly specialized, and more to the point, a college student would be hard-pressed to apply the lofty academic material to his or her personal life.

Ben-Shahar, on the other hand, wants his class to be practical. Students around here should be happier, he says, and they should get more rest. [...]

And over the course of the next semester, Ben-Shahar will lecture from the Sanders stage four times a weekâ??twice for Positive Psychology, twice for the Psychology of Leadershipâ??and he will teach his students that â??happiness is and ought to be the ultimate end.â?

Later in the article:

And the students arenâ??t the only ones learningâ??TFs [teaching fellows, or student teachers] seem to be getting just as much out of the course.

According to TF Jeffrey M. Perrottiâ??his demeanor sunny, and his utterances consistently steeped in excitement and hopeâ??thatâ??s part of why he loves working with Ben-Shahar.

â??Since I taught the course in the fall, it has been a year of incredible health and well-being for me,â? he says, wearing a t-shirt that says â??the glass is half-fullâ? on the front. â??I was able to improve my diet, my sleep, my exercise, my relationships, my sense of where I want to go in life, and whatâ??s important to me.â?

He wants the same for his students, and in his opinion, Ben-Shahar is the best man to make it happen.

â??At the risk of sounding cliché,â? Perrotti says, â??Tal really walks the talk. Heâ??s a model of positive psychology.â?

And still more:

As Perrotti says, â??whatâ??s so wonderful about these courses is that people leave the classes with a spring in their step.â?

Often, it seems, the effect is even more profound.

One senior, for instance, had been spending his summers working in consulting firms until he met Ben-Shahar in his sophomore tutorial. â??I was working 60 hours a week and not doing something I was necessarily very interested in,â? said the senior, who did not want his name used because of something called â??Google.â? Now, heâ??s planning to go to graduate school to studyâ??what else?â??positive psychology.

Heâ??s not the only one, either. Last fall, 23 percent of CUE guide respondents said the class â??changed their lives.â? And according to several TFs, it has inspired many students to switch concentrations and rethink their professional plans.

â??A lot of my friends took the course last spring and told me it was the best class theyâ??ve taken at Harvard,â? says Austin F. Blackmon â??07, who is currently enrolled in both of Ben-Shaharâ??s courses. â??I have not heard a single person give [Positive Psych] a recommendation below â??amazing.â??â?

Jennifer J. Blumberg â??08 has heard similar reviews: â??Basically, everyone recommended it to me. Everyone who took it said it was the best class theyâ??d ever taken. One girl, a good friend of mine, said it changed her life, and that it gave her a different way of looking at thingsâ??a different way of looking at what it is to be happy.â?

The full article is an enjoyable read.

Our congratulations to Tal Ben-Shahar on the recognition he’s receiving for his excellent work!

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