Paradigm Shift in Ethics Education
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Harvard’s Most Popular Course is a Class on How to be Happier

Can Happiness Be Taught?


Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar has taught Harvard University’s most popular course: a course on Positive Psychology; that is, he taught his students how to be happy.

The course, called PSY 1504 – Positive Psychology,is described as follows:

“The course focuses on the psychological aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life. Topics include happiness, self-esteem, empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, music, spirituality, and humor.”

According to Ben-Shahar, “Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness, therefore, is not about making it to them peak of the mountain, nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain: happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.”

Here are eleven happiness tips from Dr. Ben-Shahar:

  1. Ask yourself questions to foster awareness about what actions and attitudes will make you happier.
  2. Happiness must combine both pleasure and meaning, providing both present and future gain.
  3. Happiness is not an end state, but rather something you work towards your whole life. Thus, you can be happier each day. Even happiness is a journey, not a destination.
  4. Build happiness boosters into your life. These are things which you enjoy doing and can include things such as having lunch with your spouse, reading a good book, taking a warm bath, engaging in a hobby you enjoy, and so on.
  5. Create rituals. Dr. Ben-Shahar has the following to say about rituals: “The most creative individuals — whether artists, businesspeople, or parents — have rituals that they follow. Paradoxically, the routine frees them up to be creative and spontaneous.”
  6. Imagine yourself as 110 years old. What advice would you give your younger self? This added perspective will allow you to recognize and eliminate the trivial and negative things from your life.
  7. Allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions, including fear, sadness, or anxiety. Ben-Shahar advises that an expectation of constant happiness is unreasonable and sets us up for disappointment.
  8. Simplify.  Identify what’s most important to you and focus on that; stop trying to do too much. People who take on too much experience time poverty, which inhibits their ability to derive happiness from any of the activities they participate in.
  9. Remember the mind-body connection. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.
  10. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on your state of mind. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined by what we choose to focus on and by our interpretation of external events. Beyond_happiness_and_meaning-1-200x309

I’m delighted that Ben-Shahar’s ideas are like my own and that are discussed in my book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. In my book, I point out that happiness is the end product of living a life of virtue or achieving a level of excellence in one’s life that creates meaning. It leads to others valuing the individual and building self-esteem. However, happiness and meaning will not occur without the anchor of ethical behavior. This means doing the right thing for the right reason and in the right way.

I, for one, would have jumped at the opportunity to take a course on happiness in college. I applaud Harvard for developing one that clearly has been successful. We need to extend the practice to other colleges and universities if we are to create an environment were happiness flourishes in society.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on June 17, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: