Tuesday, October 04, 2005


See this update about a NYTimes story on happiness research.

Economics is called the 'dismal science'. But, for a long time, psychology too would have qualified: it dealt largely with what is wrong and dismal with the human (mental) condition, and tried to find a cure for it. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at UPenn, who actually did pretty well in that dismal culture -- he discovered 'learned helplessness' as a mechanism for depression -- turned around and decided that it was time that psychology turned its attention from 'helping people to go from minus five to zero' to 'helping them to go from zero or one to five'. In other words, positive psychology, which has now turned into a pretty formidable science with many researchers, academic courses and conferences and even a World Database of Happiness.

In the last couple of years, I read two key popular books backed by solid psychological research and written by professors of psychology : Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. Both are excellent, and highly recommended.

I wanted to make this post for a while. What forced the issue was this wonderful (and long) piece by Doroty Wade in the Sunday Times. It recounts the history of psychology, and how a bunch of people decided to re-orient it in a positive direction. It has interviews of some of the key people. It summarises their ideas neatly. All of it is done in a nice, conversational tone. In sum, it's great!

I am sure you are all interested in happiness -- yours and that of those around you. Read Dorothy Wade's article now. [link via slashdot]

And, don't forget the words from a great song from the eighties: "Don't worry, be happy"! :-)


  1. Anonymous said...

    excellent! thanks for this, Abi. just yesterday a wet-behind-the -ears just out of college sociologist in my company was dismissing psychology as such a negative science - and feeling all superior about his own field of study - all I could say then was that I was glad he accepted it was science at all! am now on my way to the article...

  2. Abi said...

    Charu, lot of people I know think that sociology is only about social pathologies such as riots, wars, religions, ...

    The positive psychology movement seems to be really big now. Do take a look at Seligman's website for further pointers, if you are interested in pursuing this field further.

  3. Anonymous said...

    this field is fascinating... recently I saw a survey (have come to so hate that word now) that shiws that Indians are more happy than Americans or the Brits or some such thing - there is clearly a lot of economic sense in understanding happiness!

    incidentlly, I studied *social* psychology fleetingly at the LSE - and so i can never reconcile the psychology-brain-neurons image of psychology with what I learnt!

  4. Abi said...


    I just posted an update, about an interesting NYTimes story on Bhutan's policies intended to enhance that country's Gross National Happiness!