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UVA Professor Explains The Elements Of Happiness


Staff Writer

On March 16, Dr. Jonathan Haidt, associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, speaks on “How to Pursue Happiness,” using ancient wisdom and modern psychology.

Haidt is highly accredited in his field, received his BA in philosophy from Yale his MA in psychology from Univ. of Penn. and post-doctorate work in anthropology.

He has been a professor at UVA since 1995, teaching his favorite course: psychology 101.  Haidt has published over 80 scholastic articles and is working on publishing his third book The Righteous Mind. He also nominated for the Templeton Prize for his work in the field of positive psychology.

Although Haidt is a professor of psychology, he considers himself a dedicated student of “morality and emotion.”

“My research these days focus on the moral foundation of politics,” said Haidt.  Earlier that day Haidt had given a presentation at on RC campus concerning “The Emotional Foundation of Liberalism and Conservatism,” morality behind political parties.

“How to Pursue Happiness” was a seminar that focused around the theories in his first book, The Happiness Hypothesis.  The first idea that Haidt covered was The Divided Self, an idea that vastly predates Haidt.  He quotes Madea from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, “I am dragged along by a strange new force.  Desire and reason are pulling in different directions.”

“I see the right way and agree but do the wrong,” said Haidt, “because you are not in control.”

Haidt uses this idea powerlessness over the mind, to introduce his model for mind and body “the elephant and the rider.”  According to Haidt, changing one’s behavior is not solely dependent on desires but coordination between the mind and body, thus the rider must train the elephant to the desires of the rider.

To Haidt, in order to change people must, train the elephant, change the path, and become a wise rider. 

Haidt also has a vast amount of empirical data regarding the how happy people are.  His research claims that in there is no general difference in happiness between age groups, there are some small discrepancies.

“Teenagers and young adults tend to be the most unhappy age groups,” said Haidt.

As far as gender, race, and relative wealth there are only small differences in the average happiness in the groups.  Haidt explains that the differences that do occur in the research are from one’s perception of happiness and genes.  Haidt supports a theory that happy individuals are genetically predisposed.

“Happiness comes from between,” Haidt said in closing. Happiness stems from a group of things: interpersonal relationships, perception, activities. 

“[Happiness is] to be dissolved in something complete and great.  We love losing ourselves in some larger mission with others,” Haidt also noted