by: Michelle Conner
You might not be able to buy happiness, but there’s a good chance you can learn more about it on a college or university campus. There’s a relatively new branch of psychology known as positive psychology, and it looks at people who enjoy good psychological health. A 2008 article in Business Week likened positive psychology courses to self-help books that have become so popular among people in search of personal growth and fulfillment.
Some Intro to Psychology courses, such as one offered by an Ivy League university in Connecticut, introduce students to positive sides of psychology as well as to anxiety and clinical depression. Another Ivy League institution, this one in Boston, at the time of the Business Week article offered an undergraduate course in positive psychology. According to the Business Week article, the course was the university’s most popular.
In Pennsylvania, the web site for a university with a Positive Psychology Center suggests that positive psychology is founded on the belief that people want to live lives that have meaning and fulfillment. Those who are happiest, a 2002 USA Today article notes, measure themselves according to their own standards, make use of their strengths, seek out intimacy, show forgiveness and gratitude and surround themselves with friends and family. Students at the Pennsylvania university can do more than learn about this new branch of psychology through a course – they can work towards a Master’s degree in applied positive psychology.
The Intro to Psychology course in Connecticut, which is provided free online, includes a video lecture on “The Good Life: Happiness.” In it, the instructor provides the Biblical example of a king with great possessions that failed to make him happy. The instructor also cites theories like that of the USA Today article, suggesting that focusing on friends and family could hold keys to happiness.
Others have different theories with regard to individual happiness. Author and radio host Deepak Chopra, who co-founded the Chopra Center for Well-Being, wrote about positive psychology in a November 2010 article in the Huffington Post. He suggests that poor self-image, depression, anxiety and other traits and disorders can lead people to make choices that limit their happiness. Chopra suggests that there are people who opt to remain in a bad situation rather than risk the unknown. He also suggests that it’s possible to become happier by envisioning that happiness.
Chopra, along with the Positive Psychology Center in Pennsylvania, have related this new study of psychology to areas such as peacefulness, wisdom, creativity and compassion. It also has been associated with tolerance, civility, leadership, productivity and more. Still, the idea of this new branch hasn’t gone without criticism.
A November article in Psychology Today points toward a best-selling book entitled, ” Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,” and an October article in Harper’s, “The War on Unhappiness: Goodbye Freud, Hello Positive Thinking.” The Psychology Today article mentions points of view that have to do with research on positive psychology that might not always be scientific. The article also notes the thoughts of those who say that blind optimism isn’t the answer and that pessimists are better at some things than optimists are.
When Intro to Psychology courses address the differences in people’s brains, they might talk about genetics and outside influences. A new branch of college psychology, known as Positive psychology, might say much of the same about happiness – that it’s part genetics and partly the actions people take. In the process of exploring positive psychology or studying it in depth, students might discover what they can do to enhance their own happiness. Those interested in pursuing a degree in psychology should visit www.testdrivecollege.com to take a free course.
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