Happy Days Are Here Again

By Nathan Burstein

Published July 29, 2009, issue of August 07, 2009.
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An Israeli “happiness” expert is bringing his popular Harvard University course to American TV audiences.

Starting August 3, Public Broadcasting Service stations across the nation will broadcast “Happiness 101 With Tal Ben-Shahar,” a 90-minute special featuring the Israeli author and Ivy League lecturer as he advises viewers on how to make their lives more pleasurable and satisfying. Drawn from the positive psychology movement — defined by PBS as “the scientific study of optimal human functioning” — the program examines the concept of happiness and analyzes research studies looking at the combined effect of genes, personality and lifestyle on a person’s level of happiness. Joining Ben-Shahar on the program are comedian Ellen DeGeneres and several of Ben-Shahar’s colleagues in academia, who appear in segments exploring stress and other topics related to happiness.

Although the PBS program should produce one of his biggest audiences yet, Ben-Shahar has previous experience speaking to large groups. One of his courses, Psychology 1504: Positive Psychology, became the most popular class at Harvard during the 2005–2006 school year, drawing more than 850 students to each week’s lectures. A second course with Ben-Shahar ranked third on the university’s list of heavily subscribed courses that year, with an enrollment of 550.

The author of two books on positive psychology, Ben-Shahar promoted the latter, 2007’s “Happier: Learning the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

A former Israeli national champion at squash, Ben-Shahar continued in the sport as an undergraduate at Harvard, earning all-American status three times. Currently a scholar-in-residence at The David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy organization, he is also the author of “A Clash of Values: The Struggle for Universal Freedom,” a 2002 book about Islamic extremism and the West.

Ben-Shahar will teach an online course on positive psychology through the University of Pennsylvania this fall.


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