Harvard professor, author and leading scholar of “Positive Psychology,” Tal Ben Shahar, Ph.D. presented a lecture titled “Learning to Be Happy: The Science of Happiness” at Nichols Hall on Oct. 16. Shahar’s appearance was part of the Common Ground Speaker Series, organized by a coalition of Bay Area schools to provide communities the opportunity to hear opinions from experts in the fields of education and parenting.
Shahar segmented his talk into four topics. The first, “Giving Ourselves Permission to be Human,” discussed how people are expected to be happy, and that happiness is equated to not having negative or painful feelings. Suppressing negative feelings, he said, also suppresses a person’s ability to have positive feelings. Feelings both positive and negative must be accepted in order to have more control and feel happier.
He then talked about how people can deal with the stress, saying that people are often stressed from trying to accomplish too much. To deal with stress, Shahar recommended taking breaks, of which there are three kinds: “micro breaks” lasting a few minutes to a few hours per day, “mezzo breaks” that include getting the right amount of sleep per night and taking the occasional day off, and “macro breaks” that consist of a week or more of time off.
Shahar championed the value of exercise, citing studies that indicate exercise could help the formation of new neurons in the brain, and improve memory and creativity. He also advocated the practice of meditation – focusing on a single thing to keep the mind from wandering, while breathing deeply and regularly. Studies have shown that “professional mediators” such as Buddhist monks are better able to deal with negative experiences.
The final part of Shahar’s lecture, “Focusing on the Positive,” dealt with how people can learn to recognize the positive aspects of their lives. He offered the idea of making a “gratitude journal” in which people would write down five things that they are grateful for each day. A podcast of Shahar’s presentation is posted on the Harker Parent Portal.