Friday, July 04, 2008

Is the "Science of Happiness" a Load of Crap?

Bruce E. Levine, writing over at AlterNet, has a provocative article up titled, The Science of Happiness: Is It All Bullshit?

He is essentially criticizing the positive psychology movement, those purveyors of happiness as a pursuit of psychology (rather than always focusing on pathology).

I think Levine makes some good points, but as far as I can tell the "science of happiness," while seeming like little more than common sense, is much needed in this culture. We have forgotten how to live lives that engender happiness.

And yes, things like "meaningfulness" and "happiness" are subjective qualities that can't be tested objectively in a laboratory, but that does not mean they do not exist and can't be evaluated in their own subjective terms.

Anyway, here is key quote from the article.

The reality is that the "science of happiness" is a shaky science. For one thing, the independent and dependent variables (such as meaningfulness and happiness) are subjective and not truly quantifiable in the manner that legitimate scientists would take too seriously. I respect the findings of real science, but shaky science provides far less authority than time-honored wisdom.

The current positive psychology craze is by no means the first time that academic psychology has taken basic common sense and elevated it with scientific-sounding jargon to create the illusion that psychologists have something special to offer. When I attended graduate school in clinical psychology, hot topics were "cognitive psychology" and "cognitive therapy," which were considered radical shifts from "behaviorism" (which dogmatically focused only on "observable events"). Cognitive psychology's great contribution? Just because you cannot see people's thoughts, people actually do think, and thoughts affect our emotions. However, 2,500 years earlier, the Buddha taught about the thought-emotion connection in a far more profound way than any academic cognitive psychologist.

Read the rest of the article.

Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green, 2007).

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