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Tal Ben-Shahar - Happy Talk

Jon is amazed that professor Tal Ben-Shahar gets away with teaching happiness at Harvard.


The Science of Happiness: Is It All Bullshit?
Denmark 'world's happiest nation'




 

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For all of you who can't stand ComedyCentral's format :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNVT1TXExJk

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@Levine: Is this supposed to be ironic? The tagline of the article is:

"Just because a Harvard academic says something is so, doesn't mean it is."

But the only evidence Levine brings is:

"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."

How about a second thing, please? Ah, but Dr. Levine is a legitimate scientist, so we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about demanding evidence for his claims...

Nice interview by Stewart. I wish it weren't so short.

My shit detector fired as soon as Ben-Shahar challenged Stewart to take the final (the guy could be teaching alchemy and still have a difficult final).

Then when he said he had no long-term measures of happiness and failed to explain how anything is quantified or tested, I wondered what kind of "science" presents theories without testing them. If you don't have theories of the world that are testable/falsifiable, you don't have a science.

No, he supports his "science" by appealing to its popularity and the credentials of some economist. Kudos to Stewart for continually asking "how is this science?"

Hopefully, next week Stewart will have Brian Greene on the show and ask, "How, in my lifetime, could we falsify string theory?"

"The Science of Happiness: Is It All Bullshit?"

Bruce E. Levine (the author of this article) is a bullshitter's bullshitter. All he has to offer in his two page article are broad associations, anecdotal experience working in other related fields of psychology, and a general appeal to his own self-authority.

Not one example directly taken from Tal Ben-Shahar's work. Not one! Why did he bother writing this article?

Before reading Levine's article, I didn't know anything about Ben-Shahar's research nor the subject of "The Science of Happiness" (i.e."Positive Psychology"), and after reading his article which purported to be entirely on the subject of Ben-Shahar and "The Science of Happiness", I still don't know anything at all about the subject. All I know is that Levine wants me to take him at his word that it's bullshit and that Levine thinks it's important to cite the Webster's dictionary definition of "bullshit".

Never thought of this as Ivy League level stuff -- I've been teaching it to counseling clients for years. Stuff like this:

I meditate. A lot. Every damned day, in the midst of almost any activity. When you’re my age, for example, it takes you a while to finish up at the urinal — typically two young guys come in one after the other and are done before I’m ready to leave. I look at the white ceramic wall, breathe, and settle into the center. Same thing on the subway, walking up a flight of stairs, sitting on the can, waiting in line. Not only does extending a meditation practice into these moments invite the well-researched physical and psychological benefits of meditation, but it also takes that ugly penumbra of the mysterious, the special, the spiritual, and the holy, out of the practice. It makes meditation an ordinary part of life, just as it is for the animals. (more here)

There's another fellow who does this better than I do; his name's Jon Kabat-Zinn, and he's been around for ages too.

So if you'd like to say it ain't worth dogshit because it lacks the holy aura of science, you're just advocating another religion, which is the last thing we need today. I say it's plain common sense. Which is one reason, by the way, why I have to hold down a job instead of selling "secrets" on Oprah.

I am someone who is pursuing a PhD degree in cognitive psychology in the states. As a cognitive psychologist, I have to agree and say that this whole happiness thing sounds like bullshit to me. And I do agree with the argument that just because it comes from harvard doesn't mean it is good... To quote a line from a Woody Allen's movie: "Hey, Harvard makes mistakes too... Henry Kissinger graduated from Harvard"....

But asides from that, I must say I disagree with the Alternet article. While it is true that there are a lot of bullshit research going on (especially in the field of counseling and clinical psychology), it does not mean that all the research coming out from the discipline is bad. It seems to me that the author has already decided that psychology is an evil discipline and hence it is unfortunate that the whole article was biased.

Yes, the original DSM classified homosexuals as a mental disorder. But (1) that was because unlike other disciplines, psychology is actually quite young given that it is less than a century old, you always need to start somewhere and although it was unfortunate that they got it wrong at first, but the fact that it was removed from subsequent editions means that the discipline (because it subscribes to the scientific approach) is self-correcting and corrects its mistakes. I am sure that there are disorders listed in the DSM-IV now which is somewhat iffy, but I am sure subsequent research would weed them out as well. To say that just because there are a few bad research or that you do not agree with some research and hence the whole discipline is "wrong"... that is like saying you have to scrap your car now since the car stereo isn't working anymore.

The whole line of reasoning used by Levine to insinuate that "Positive Psychology" was bullshit because the DSM is flawed is a silly line of reasoning. I liken it to an argument that would attempt to dismiss some field of astronomy as not scientific because astronomers classified Pluto as a planet, or dismiss some field within biology as not scientific because biologists classify some species of animal as a mammal, when it really is more suited to be classified as a reptile.

meanwhile, ben shahar, leibowitz and levine laugh all the way to the bank. and if ANY one of you has experienced even ONE moment of happiness from all this, you can have your money back or a nice, white pleather belt, whichever you like.

Hello Norm,

It's possible that I missed it, but I couldn't find a post related to the Iraq on the Record database. Since I first got word of this from the good Jon Stewart, I'm posting this here.

In an episode last month, Stewart mentioned the Iraq on the Record report prepared by the House of Representative’s Committee on Government Reform. After watching a repeat of this episode in which Stewart blasted the media for not covering the release of the report, save a brief mention by “B-Dubs” (that’s Brian Williams, host of NBC’s Nightly News). My interest was sufficiently piqued, so I did what any self-informed individual under sixty would do: I hit the web. It took some Boolean experimentation and u-turns, due to some curiously dead links on federal sites, but I reached the searchable database where intrigued parties can search through 237 misleading statements by members of the Bush administration.

Here's the link: http://oversight.house.gov/IraqOnTheRecord/

Yes, over two hundred drum taps made over the course of about one year are collected for your perusal. Keep in mind, though, this collection includes the statements officials knew to be dubious, “because they expressed certainty where none existed or failed to acknowledge the doubts of intelligence officials.” There are even a few, ten or so, they must have certainly known to be false. For example, here’s an outright lie by Mr. Cheney:

"He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Source: Meet the Press, NBC (3/16/2003).

This statement is a lie, the report explains, because the intelligence community did not believe Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. Maybe, you might say, in using the first person plural, the royal “we”, Cheney was indicating that this was his belief, or perhaps, this was the belief of himself and some others in our government. Yet, why would he, or they, believe this if he had received numerous intelligence reports to the contrary?

Don’t take my word for it. There are literally hundreds of reasons for you to believe that your government intentionally misled you into supporting, or at least allowing, an illegal and unsubstantiated war of aggression on a sovereign nation.

Hello Norm,

It's possible that I missed it, but I couldn't find a post related to the Iraq on the Record database. Since I first got word of this from the good Jon Stewart, I'm posting this here.

In an episode last month, Stewart mentioned the Iraq on the Record report prepared by the House of Representative’s Committee on Government Reform. After watching a repeat of this episode in which Stewart blasted the media for not covering the release of the report, save a brief mention by “B-Dubs” (that’s Brian Williams, host of NBC’s Nightly News). My interest was sufficiently piqued, so I did what any self-informed individual under sixty would do: I hit the web. It took some Boolean experimentation and u-turns, due to some curiously dead links on federal sites, but I reached the searchable database where intrigued parties can search through 237 misleading statements by members of the Bush administration.

Here's the link: http://oversight.house.gov/IraqOnTheRecord/

Yes, over two hundred drum taps made over the course of about one year are collected for your perusal. Keep in mind, though, this collection includes the statements officials knew to be dubious, “because they expressed certainty where none existed or failed to acknowledge the doubts of intelligence officials.” There are even a few, ten or so, they must have certainly known to be false. For example, here’s an outright lie by Mr. Cheney:

"He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Source: Meet the Press, NBC (3/16/2003).

This statement is a lie, the report explains, because the intelligence community did not believe Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. Maybe, you might say, in using the first person plural, the royal “we”, Cheney was indicating that this was his belief, or perhaps, this was the belief of himself and some others in our government. Yet, why would he, or they, believe this if he had received numerous intelligence reports to the contrary?

Don’t take my word for it. There are literally hundreds of reasons for you to believe that your government intentionally misled you into supporting, or at least allowing, an illegal and unsubstantiated war of aggression on a sovereign nation.

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Does anyone remember Pleasantville? Allow me to try to explain in brief. Two reasons behind such strong positive attitude in Denmark are the contentment with mediocrity and the deep pride Danes take in their social welfare system. Both elements arising from the basis of the Jantelov, the cultural code that still subtly dominating the Danish society today. Although most Danes no longer take these rules seriously, the law is so strongly embodied in the mentality of Danes, many believe it had originated in the middle ages. The Jantelov was penned as an ironic critique of society by Sandemose, its ten commandments dictate Danish behaviour patterns.

Sandemose's Jantelov:

1. You shall not believe that you are somebody

2. You shall not believe that you are as worthy as us

3.You shall not believe that you are any wiser than us

4. You shall not imagine that you are any better than us

5. You shall not believe that you know anything more than us

6. You shall not believe that you are more than us

7. You shall not believe that you are good at anything

8. You shall not laugh at us

9. You shall not believe that anyone cares about you

10. You shall not believe that you can teach us anything

The paradox of such system of society is the racism and prejudices it propagates. The idealism of education and opportunity for all, regardless of social status or location, alongside the egalitarian and self-effacing Jantelov, should dictate that racism is unlikely to evolve, however modern Denmark has a discourse of cultural superiority towards ethnic minorities that sits uncomfortably alongside its egalitarian principles. (our system is the best system in the world!) Danish culture is a paradoxical mix of high liberalism in terms of artistic expressions and free speech, and extreme conservatism when people challenge accepted social rules, with open and vocal condemnation of individuals who step outside the lines.

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