Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 5

This session continues the fifth basic premise ‘the moral dimension of happiness’. It then explores how beliefs shape the reality, beliefs as self-fulfilling prophecies, and understanding the power of situation.

Tal states that “Equating to selfishness and immorality is the No.1 cause, subconsciously mostly, of unhappiness… Because people feel guilty about pursuing their own happiness“. It’s interesting to ponder this statement. I once thought that selfish people don’t care about others, they think and do things from their own perspective or aim, and they have lower sense of other people’s feeling and concern little, that’s why they are happier; whereas non-selfish people care about other people’s feeling and often feel guilty to be selfish. They have higher sense of other people’s feeling and concern too much, that’s why they are less happy. The view clearly has problem. We shouldn’t look it as selfish equal immoral, rather we should look it as something so wonderful about our nature. Tal explains that “Happiness is a positive-sum game. Happiness is contagious. Being happy is also a moral state.

Tal suggests to commit above and beyond what we usually commit five extra acts of kindness during one day. Helping others is also helping ourselves. There is a self-reinforcing loop between the two.

Interesting research findings:

  • Approach rather than avoidance goals.
  • People mostly do what you do rather than what you say.
  • The Pygmalion Effect – the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform
  • The Asch Conformity Experiments – an individual’s own opinions are influenced by those of a majority group

People and their work:

  • William James’ (1890) book Varieties of Religious Experiencehappiness as our highest end
  • Dalai Lama – The very purpose of our life is happiness. The very motion of our life is towards happiness.
  • Aristotle’s Law of Identity – A is A
  • Barbara Fredrickson – positive emotions have an evolutionary reason
  • Alice Isen – positive emotions – helping ourselves, contributing to our well-being lead us to be more generous and benevolent towards others.
  • Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness – helping others is also helping ourselves.
  • Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography My Experiments with Truth – Be the change you want to see in the world.
  • Roger Bannister – the power of the mind – broke the world mile record and the four-minute barrier at Iffley Road Track in Oxford on 6 May 1954.
  • Albert Bandura – self-efficacy
  • Nathaniel Branden – self-esteem
  • Martin Luther King’s dream and approach – how we can make a dream into reality
  • Herbert Benson – Mind Body Medicine
  • George Bernard Shaw – Pygmalion – how people can be changed
  • Robert Rosenthal (1960s) – shift the attention to something that was there all along.
  • Kay Redfield Jamison’s reasearch in 1997 – beliefs.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
  • Stanley Milgram’s experiment on Obedience to Authority – The power of the situation
  • Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiment – the power of the situation, entering an role, the sense of the reality [I had a quick search of the experiment and felt extremely uncomfortable to watch/read. Very profound questions were emerged to ask at the end…]
  • Ellen Langer’s psychology experiment in 1972 and her book Mindfulness – The power of the situation
  • John Barge – priming – at subconscious level and conscious level
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