THE BLOG

Positive Psychology: Hard Core 'Happiness' Nerds -- and Goldie Hawn

03/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Have you heard all this hoopola lately about Happiness? You can't get away from it. There is the Happiness project, best selling books on Happiness, and even the most popular course at Harvard is about... more Happiness. Apparently, after eight years of focusing on fear, anger and suspicion, we need some serious training to elevate our moods back to where they belong.

Over the weekend, I attended a conference about Positive Psychology, a relatively new addition to the field, and one that is receiving lots of attention. Essentially, instead of psychologists spending all their time focusing on really fun stuff like anger, depression and fear, as well as classifying mental disorders, they've decided to dedicate some serious research to the upper end of the emotional spectrum. Positive psychology studies areas like learned optimism, authentic happiness, character virtues, and "transformational positivity".

Claremont Graduate University in Southern California is taking a leading role in developing this field, anchored with one of the great minds of our time, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi -- who is the developer of "flow state" now used widely in psychology, economics and sports. The conference sold out their largest theatre of over 650 people, and another 150 watched via Webcast from far away lands like Finland, and Australia -- staying up all night to do so.

Let me tell you, these guys are hard core. This is not Chicken Soup for the Soul or some sort of New Agey affair. Hardly. Dozens of leading scholars in areas such as neuroscience, organizational development, social entrepreneurship and education research marched to the podium with power points displaying stats, charts and graphs galore. Some of them have over 300 publications to their names and combined they have probably published over a hundred books collectively in their specialties.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the "founder" of positive psychology, said via satellite, the field will be developing four main areas: Positive physical health -- how getting fit may have more to do with who you hang out with than what you eat; Positive neuroscience -- learning more and more about how the brain is impacted by positive and negative experiences; Positive social science- how can we make life worth living, more meaningful and bring these strengths to our economics; and Positive education - how to help kids develop more engagement, meaning and good relations in education without sacrificing skills.

If President Obama wants to elevate the sciences back to their rightful place, this is a great place to start. One of the speakers shared how powerful it was that Obama's inauguration speech had some mention of character or virtue in almost every single line -- and he is the only man who could pull that off without sounding corny or inauthentic. The world is listening. We want to be hopeful again, we want to be more dedicated to service, and quite frankly, we'd like to be happier.

One of the best parts of the long and dense day of data download came in the form of a lovely blonde, who floated down to the front row and looked awfully familiar. She had these sparkly eyes, pouty lips and a smile that hasn't changed since "Laugh-In". Goldie Hawn spent the day with us -- intensely taking it all in, writing copious notes, asking questions and, frankly hanging tough with the rest of us geeks.

Goldie Hawn Kicks Ass

She is my new hero. Turns out, Goldie is a big fan of Csikszentmihalyi's flow state work, and wanted to check it out. She runs a wonderful charity called The Hawn Foundation: dedicated to offering "Mindfulness Education" for children by integrating social-emotional learning, cognitive behavioral therapy, positive psychology and mindfulness-based stress reduction. She was very interested to see this field get the solid attention it deserves.

"Well-Being is a societal goal," said Dr. Edward Diener, was there and is the President of both the International Society of Quality of Life Studies and the International Positive Psychology Association. He is pushing to use a national account of our society's well being to stand in rank and file priority with the daily reports of our GNP, crime rate and longevity. He asserts the societal benefits of happiness result in more volunteering, pro-peace attitudes and cooperative alliances in families, schools, neighborhoods and between countries.

Maybe it's time for a new Cabinet position -- dare I say "Secretary of Happiness?"

What are your thoughts about the rise of the Happiness movement and the renewed interest in character virtures and well being in our society? I'd love to hear your comments in the box below and will try to answer as many as I can. Also, be sure to click on the RSS feed to receive future posts.