Happiness Is...

Happiness Is...
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Since my husband is currently getting his doctorate in psychology and I've been a bit of a therapy junky for years, we talk about head shrinking a lot. Lately we've been talking about whether psychoanalysis is curative or just self indulgent and elitist. Remember, analysis is different from psychotherapy -- it's the Woody Allen version where you go three times a week and basically get to know yourself a whole lot better. Lately, I've even been questioning the value of psychotherapy after a certain point. There is only so much wallowing one can do before you realize you are who you are (or who you've become) and work on trying to modify your behavior/responses to all the negative crap as a way to reduce general feelings of angst and depression.

What's funny is that we (my husband and I) also both share a bit of built-in cynicism about anything that comes of as cheesy or hokey. It tends to inspire the cringe factor, even if in theory, it makes sense and seems cool. It's like I read the Oprah magazine, and want to just "believe" all of the positive-you-can-change-your-life advice her cadre of experts gives, but...

What does this have to do with teens, you ask? Well, the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a lengthy piece called "Happiness 101" on a newish movement in psychology called "positive psychology." From the article (reg. required):

Positive psychology brings the same attention to positive emotions (happiness, pleasure, well-being) that clinical psychology has always paid to the negative ones (depression, anger, resentment). Psychoanalysis once promised to turn acute human misery into ordinary suffering; positive psychology promises to take mild human pleasure and turn it into a profound state of well-being....Thus positive psychology is not only about maximizing personal happiness but also about embracing civic engagement and spiritual connectedness, hope and charity.

The article also talks about how positive psychology is being taught in colleges and how its advocates want to see it implemented in high schools:

Seligman [Martin Seligman, one of the field's founders, who heads the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania] recently held a meeting with the leaders from the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, the Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pa., the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx and the KIPP program, a national network of public charter schools, at which the educational leaders discussed introducing positive psychology into their schools. They are all looking to restore "wholeness" to the teenage years, to replace the supposed sense of certainty that the '60s removed and that returned in the '80s as a national political objective but that teachers are now too bogged down in the fundamentals to teach and adults, working longer and longer hours, are simply too busy to shore up at home. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for June, this time with a dozen schools; one item on the agenda is to add personal strengths and virtues to admissions criteria. (Educational Testing Service is exploring a test that students wouldn't be able to fake.) "What this is about is building character," Seligman says.

I found this really interesting -- and it immediately made me think of David Lynch and his attempts to integrate transcendental meditation into middle and high schools. The cynical part of me is cringing a bit at the notion of "positive psychology" in general and wondering whether integrating this into schools is a good thing. I also wonder if my cynicism is some kind of holdover from my own teenage years. Does positive psychology run counter to adolescent development and the nature of being a teenager? Of being hyper aware of what your peers think is cool, less empathetic, obsessed with fitting in, being somewhat morbid and nihilistic, risk taking, etc.? Still, everyone talks about this generation as being the most optimistic and service-oriented yet. Maybe positive psychology is the perfect fit for Generation Y...

What do you think?

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