Is there Science to Happiness?

The science of happiness has been getting some attention online lately.  While not necessarily a new discipline, the science of happiness seems to be gaining some popularity.  But what exactly is the science of happiness?

The science of happiness is an approach to psychology.  Its preeminent co-founders are psychologists Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, though it has roots in many disciplines, including emotion research, moral psychology, humanism, cognitive behavioral therapy, and the humanities, especially philosophy.  How does it work? The concept is well explained in an article by Meghan Keener of the Huffington Post.  Keener writes:

Early in his career as a psychologist, Martin Seligman developed the theory of learned helplessness, which outlines the response that follows when we believe our actions don’t matter. This later led him to explore the idea that if we could learn to be helpless, we could also learn to be optimistic. This pioneering work in learned optimism underscored the role that our cognitive processes play in our own happiness. Positive psychology officially began in 1998 when Seligman made it his mission as President of the American Psychological Association to turn the attention of psychology toward those elements of life that contribute to human flourishing. Through this prioritization of turning an empirical eye towards the good side of life, he was paramount in the creation of positive psychology as we know it. Co-founder Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi had spent years working on creativity and intrinsically motivated activity. He is most well-known for developing the construct of flow, or deep immersion in an activity noticeably, the feeling when “time stands still” and you are “one with” an activity). Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi defined positive psychology as a “science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions.

There is no question that we live in a world that is noisy, busy, full of heavy traffic and inundated with information.  The fast pace of modern society creates quite the challenge for us to unintentionally get lost in the moment.  However, according to proponents of the science of happiness, we have to slow things down and live in the moment.  We cannot always be thinking of what we are going to do next, worrying about what the future will hold.   Instead we sometimes need to soak in the moment.  We need to revel in present, even if it the present is mundane.  It is a psychological approach that reconfigures the lens through which we view life.  Whether this approach is used to help someone who is struggling with psychological impairments, whether it is a tool used in rehabilitation, or whether it is adopted to increase general wellbeing, it seems the science of happiness is a healthy approach for each of us to employ in our daily lives.


Christopher Dawson

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