The Science of Happiness and Sadness

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3 Questions

What does Martin Seligman urge colleagues to do in the late 1990s?

Study optimal moods

What does Eric Wilson of Wake Forest University argue about the happiness movement?

That it disregards great works of art

What does Allan Horwitz of Rutgers observe regarding young people?

That they should medicate themselves

Study Notes

  • In the late 1990s, psychologist Martin Seligman urged colleagues to observe optimal moods with the same intensity with which they had for so long studied pathologies.
  • A new generation of psychologists built up a respectable body of research on positive character traits and happiness-boosting practices.
  • At the same time, developments in neuroscience provided new clues to what makes us happy and what that looks like in the brain.
  • Self-appointed experts took advantage of the trend with guarantees to eliminate worry, stress, dejection and even boredom.
  • This happiness movement has provoked a great deal of opposition among psychologists who observe that the preoccupation with happiness has come at the cost of sadness, an important feeling that people have tried to banish from their emotional repertoire.
  • Allan Horwitz of Rutgers laments that young people who are naturally weepy after breakups are often urged to medicate themselves instead of working through their sadness.
  • Wake Forest University’s Eric Wilson fumes that the obsession with happiness amounts to a “craven disregard” for the melancholic perspective that has given rise to the greatest works of art.
  • “The happy man” he writes, “is a hollow man.”

Explore the psychological and neuroscientific perspectives on happiness and sadness. Delve into the debate surrounding the emphasis on happiness and its potential impact on our emotional experiences.

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