Podcast: The Future of Happiness and Education

Photo: Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is a former Harvard lecturer and current public speaker.

Welcome to season 2 of Shaping the Future. Join our new host Matthew Mugo Fields, HMH's general manager of supplemental and intervention solutions and co-founder of Innovation For Equity, as he sits down with industry experts to discuss the future of education. This week's guest is Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Happier.

A full transcript of the episode appears below; it has been edited for clarity.

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Matthew Mugo Fields: Welcome to Shaping the Future, a production of HMH. I'm your host, Matthew Mugo Fields. Here, we'll examine leading issues in education and I'll be joined by experts, innovators, and leaders to discuss how we prepare our students for an unpredictable future. In today's episode, we are discussing the science of happiness and the role education can play in helping students lead happier lives.

Our guest is Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, best-selling author and renowned public speaker. Tal taught two of the largest classes in Harvard University's history. Today, he consults and lectures around the world on subjects like leadership, education and mindfulness. Tal is the co-founder and Chief Learning Officer of the Happiness Studies Academy. Given everything that's happening in the world today, I was really excited to have this conversation with Tal. Check it out.

Tal, great to have you. Before we learn a little bit more about your research and how it applies to students and teachers these days, I want to hear a little bit about your journey as a learner, as a student growing up. Tell us a little bit about young Tal.

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar: For me in many ways, my education revolved around two main areas. One, traditional education. I went to school. I was always into math, into the sciences, into computer science, from the programming from a very young age. That was one track. The other track was sports. When I was four years old, my parents said, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I said, "I want to play in the NBA." Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I think partially because I stopped at 5'6". I'm still waiting. "It's never too late," they say. But I did end up playing squash and played professional squash. It's along these lines, and I think my education took place certainly in the classroom as well as on the squash court. In these two areas, as a result of these two areas, I was prompted to actually study happiness.

I was relatively unhappy as a child. I don't think I was clinically depressed, now I know what that means, but I was anxious. I was basically low affect. But I always said to myself, if I win...I lived in Israel, if I win the national championships, then I'll be happy. That always kept me going. Just before I turned 17, I won the national championships and I was ecstatic, really happy for four hours, and then back to where I was before, the same drudgeriness. You know like, "Okay, another stone to push up a mountain." I realized maybe I have it wrong, but I wasn't sure yet. Maybe my formula for happiness is wrong, but I wasn't sure. Fast forward, I was a student, an undergraduate at Harvard studying computer science, playing on the squash team, but really much more into my academics than into my sports at that time.

I thought that getting into Harvard would make me happy, or doing well academically or getting a good summer internship or a good job would make me happy, and I wasn't happy. At some point during my undergraduate, I decided to switch course, and I switched from computer science to philosophy and psychology. I still remember my academic advisor asking me, "Why the change?" I said to her, "Because I have two questions. One is why aren't I happy? Two, how can I become happier?" These are the two questions that have led me on this path 30 years hence.

Our host Matthew Mugo Fields meets up with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar over Zoom to discuss the elements of happiness.

MMF: Wow. Quite a journey. To think, in part, started as my journey started, which is figuring out I wasn't going to make it to the NBA. We have that in common, my friend. That has been a path for many, and it has led to so much greatness in other areas. You mentioned this notion of really marrying together, in some ways, your personal quest for happiness with your academic focus, and eventually your research. I think in many ways, educators, that's what we would hope for many students, is to somehow have the connection between what they're learning in schools, in this case for you in higher ed at Harvard, and what their life focus is. I think you and I were both at Harvard at the same time, and it's an interesting place to say the least. Tell us a bit about that research that you began doing in your quest to answer the question how could you become happy?

TBS: Yes. Initially, as you pointed out, it was about a personal quest. I was not thinking at that time this is what I want to do with my life. I just wanted to enjoy my life basically, or I think the bar was actually lower. I just didn't want to suffer and struggle. My research doc started by asking why, and I thought psychology philosophy would be a good place to start. The thing that I discovered, and later on also did research on, was the relationship between success and happiness. We're often told explicitly or implicitly that once we make it, then we'll be happy. Once we make it into our top choice or one of our top choice colleges, we'll be happy. If you're not yet happy, then when you get a good job, then you'll be happy. Or when you have that dream home or car or partner or family or life, and unfortunately that's wrong, and it's not a little wrong, it's very wrong.

It's leading millions, if not billions of people, down the wrong path. In fact, it very often leads us to a lot less happiness than we had before we achieved our goals. Think about this model. You have a person who's unhappy as a teenager or a young man, but he always says to himself, "When I make it, when I become, say, a movie star, then I'll be happy. When I have it all." That person is miserable and he continues to be miserable, but he continues to hope that when he makes it, and he eventually makes it and becomes a superstar and he's desired, he can have any person he wants, he can buy anything he wants. He has it all, and he's elated. For how long? Probably more than four hours, but not that much longer four months, maybe a year or two. Then the honeymoon phase goes away, and he is unhappy again, only this time he doesn't have the illusion sustaining him that when he makes it, then he'll be happy.

He looks for answers outside of reality. What's outside of reality? It could be alcohol, it could be drugs, it could be the ultimate exit, which is suicide. This is why we see so many very successful people, people whom we think, wow, they really have it all, ending up miserable. The reason is because they have the wrong model, and the model is success leads to happiness. It doesn't. That was the first step. First of all, I had to understand what's going on, where have I gone wrong? Then it was asking, "Okay, what can I do now to find happiness?" I must say I don't think there have been any surprises along the way other than the surprise that there are no surprises. A lot of it is common sense, but as a French philosopher, Voltaire, once said, insinuated, "Common sense is not so common."

MMF: You mentioned this whole paradox between success not equaling happiness. Let me ask you this and what have you found in your research, what is happiness? What is this thing known as happiness?

TBS: Yes. No, again, there are many answers to this, and the model that my colleagues and I constructed is essentially a synthesis of much of what is out there. The synthesis comprises five elements of wellbeing. The first element is spiritual wellbeing. Could of course come through religion, but it doesn't have to be. It's about finding a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It's about being present, being mindful, being in the here and now. Henry Miller once remarked that when we truly observe and are mindful to anything, anything ordinary, it turns into extraordinary, even if it's a blade of grass. Being present, this is a spirituality, having a sense of meaning and purpose. The second element of wellbeing is physical wellbeing. That is a nutrition, exercise. Regular physical exercise has the same effect on our psychological wellbeing as our most powerful psychiatric medication.

Regular exercise in schools contributes to students' wellbeing, improves their grades, reduces school violence. I'm always upset when I read that the schools take away PE classes. They're no less important than classes in the sciences and in the three Rs. Physical exercise of course, and sleep is extremely important for wellbeing for children, even more so than for adults. Then the third element after spiritual and physical wellbeing, we have intellectual wellbeing. Now, intellectual wellbeing is an interesting one. There's research coming out showing that curiosity actually contributes to longevity. So people who are asking questions, who are constantly learning, and hopefully this is what schools create lifelong learners. They live longer, they're happier, they're better off. Their relationships are even better. Curiosity, deep learning is important. The first class that I took at Harvard when I came in as an undergrad was in speed reading.

It was only years later that I, first of all, appreciated the class, of course. However, I also thought that another class should have been taught during freshmen week, and that is a slow reading. Deep learning is important for intellectual wellbeing. Then there is a relational wellbeing, number one predictor of happiness, quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. The final element of happiness is the emotional wellbeing. How do you deal with painful emotions? How do you cultivate more pleasurable emotions? Like gratitude, like joy, like love. So spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional. The acronym is SPIRE. These are the elements of happiness.

MMF: SPIRE. We now have a working and more robust definition of happiness. I want to shift the conversation a little bit to talk about how happiness can be useful and applied in the context of schools and education. I want our entry point for that part of the discussion, Tal, to be an acknowledgement about the challenges that exist today in the world, the global pandemic COVID-19 and other challenges that are being highlighted in our society right now. School and education, as they always, are places where these sorts of global and societal phenomena can play out in pretty dramatic ways, and that is true right now. Schools and teachers and students are quite challenged by all of the things that are happening in the world right now. Tell us a little bit about how you think this notion, this definition of happiness can be helpful, useful in the context of schools.

TBS: Yeah. As we're speaking, I can actually hear my son in the other room who's at home studying on Zoom. Yeah, there are many challenges that students face, which to my mind, makes the science of happiness more important than ever, which is counter to what many people think. I mean, a friend of mine recently said to me, "Tal, shouldn't we quarantine happiness, at least for a while?" My answer is no, and the reason is because what the science of happiness can help us and our students, our children do is grow stronger as a result of a hardship. Nassim Taleb, who's a NYU professor, talks about the concept of anti-fragility. Anti-fragility, the opposite of fragility, is what I've come to call resilience 2.0. Resilience 1.0 is bouncing back. Anti-fragility is bouncing back higher as a result of pressure and stress. If you think about it, our muscles are anti-fragile.

You put pressure on them, they don't just bounce back. They grow as a result. We become healthier, stronger, better off. The science of happiness can provide tools for teachers, for students, for adults and children alike to grow stronger from hardship. For example, we know that children and adults who are listened to are more likely to grow from hardship. This is the time for teachers, it's the time for leaders in general, which includes teachers and parents, it's the time to listen and to be there much more so than to preach or to explicitly teach. I think we need to go an extra mile to listen and be there for our children, and it's not easy because we need to be listened to as well. I mentioned earlier that relationships are the number one predictor of happiness. They're also the number one predictor of anti-fragility.

Now, it's difficult because the relationships are not the same as they were a year ago. A year ago, I would have said, "At this point, we need to encourage children and adults to have many more face-to-face interactions, in-person encounters." Because 1,000 friends on social media are no substitute for that one BFF, for that one best friend. Today, we can really talk about in-person as much. However, what we can talk about, the distinction we can make is between superficial and deep relationships. To my mind, this is the most important thing that we as teachers and parents need to encourage in our students. It's the number one predictor of anti-fragility, of growth from hardship, and not to mention the number one predictor of happiness. In addition, I mentioned earlier physical exercise. If there is one thing I insist on with my kids every day is that they exercise.

MMF: You mentioned something that really resonated with me, and that's this notion of deep relationships. We say often at HMH that though we focus on curriculum and educational technology and good teaching practice and a lot of the tools and enablements of academic learning, we are very clear about this notion that relationship, particularly student-teacher relationships, are at the very center of learning and must be there. Your point that those need to be deep, meaningful relationships, and that you can pursue constructing deep, meaningful relationships regardless of the medium. There may not be a full substitute for face-to-face, but you shouldn't have abandoned the quest simply because there's some glass and some wires between you and those students.

TBS: I think back to what happened around the world until 50 years ago or 100 years ago, where so many relationships were conducted by mail, and it was snail mail kind of mail. Some of my favorite books are letters, books of letters, whether it's between or among the founding fathers or Freud and Einstein. These are fascinating letters and they're deep and they're meaningful and they had real relationships. Again, no substitute for the in-person, same room, playing the same sandbox. However, given the current situation, good enough is really good enough.

While studying at Harvard University, Tal realized that he had two important questions: "Why aren't I happy, and how can I become happier?"

MMF: You mentioned the importance of relationships and helping build resilience. In education, over the past, I don't know how many years, there's been a big focus on Dweck's work around growth mindset and Duckworth and grit and the importance of those kinds of attributes in helping students achieve. However, in recent years, there's been a critique of those philosophies or approaches. The critique goes something like this, and I want to get your take on. It's, hey, that is true, but insufficient because there are very real structural barriers, sometimes historical barriers, that produce structural inequities and inequalities that holding up the flag of resilience is just not enough and doesn't acknowledge that certain kids, when they come to school, they didn't have enough to eat at home, they don't come from a family that has had access to all the resources other families do.

So to then hit those folks over the head with a message of you just need to bounce back is not only not prescriptively right, but it's largely off base and insensitive to the reality that many of our students face. Look, we're in a school system now where more than half of students in American public schools come from homes that are in poverty, require free or reduced lunch. A vast majority of those students, many of them...This is all pre-pandemic, by the way. More than half the kids in American schools are students of color. Some of them from historically disenfranchised communities, et cetera. I'm sure you've heard all this before. What is your response to that critique of some of these things?

TBS: Yeah. Obviously, this is a very important critique and it's a conversation that I have with my students and colleagues all the time. The bottom line is that the science of happiness is not a panacea. It's definitely not solve everything, and it's...You used the word insensitive. This is the word that I use. It would be insensitive for me to go and tell the person who lives in dire poverty, "You need to find meaning in your life. Now, if you cultivate relationships and express gratitude every day, your life will be transformed and you will live happily ever after." No. We know from research in sociology, in psychology as well, in social psychology in particular, just how important the environment is, just how much impact my social environment, my physical environment has on my wellbeing, on my performance, on my motivation, on my ultimate success.

Focusing on individual happiness should not, cannot, take away from the importance of focusing on changing the environment. There's Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Think about basic needs. First of all, we need to get bread on the table. First of all, we need basic security, physical security and safety before we even can talk about self-actualization or finding your passions or meaning in life. Now, the thing though is that they can go hand in hand. First of all, acknowledge these are the basics. That's the most important. But that doesn't mean, and this is where it's different from Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that doesn't mean that until we have of those, we can't even talk about the sense of meaning and purpose. Let me focus on a sense of meaning and purpose for a minute.

When I started to teach about this topic, people said to me, "Okay, you're talking about finding meaning? Come on, really? What about a single mom who has to hold three jobs just so that there's enough food on the table, and you're talking to her about the importance of finding meaning in life?" My answer is yes, absolutely. Here is why. It's not an all or nothing proposition. What we know is that if a person finds one hour or two hours a week of a meaningful activity, whatever that is, that could be spending time with your friends from school, or that could be volunteering because that is what is meaningful for you, or sitting down and talking to your kids about life, whatever it is, one to two hours a week, that has a trickle effect. Now, of course, it's better to have seven hours a day of meaning and purpose, but something is a lot better than nothing because that's something affects the time that comes after that.

That something is also something that I look forward to before. This is a place, an important place, where the science of happiness can help. Some of the work that I think is missing is understanding what the best form of giving is. The best form of giving, and there's more and more evidence to suggest this, is not simply to help people. It's rather to help people help others, and that is an important distinction to make. Because if let's say I'm a recipient of help, very often that will just reinforce my helplessness. In contrast, if I'm helped, but I'm helped to help others, suddenly I shift from being helpless to helpful, and that we know is closely associated with the shift from hopeless to hopeful.

The difference between sadness and depression is that depression is sadness without hope. Creating that shift to being helpful, that can make all the difference in a person's life. My self-confidence grows, my self-efficacy grows, and I will indirectly also become a better student, a better person, because I'm a helpful person. This to my mind is what we need to focus on, what educators need to focus on. You go back to the jigsaw classroom. Why is it helpful? Because students, they'll become helpful because everyone is dependent on everyone else. Again, this is just in the classroom. But also outside the classroom, help these individuals in those neighborhoods help within their neighborhoods and outside their neighborhoods. Shift from learned helplessness to learned helpfulness.

MMF: I think that's incredibly powerful. Oftentimes, this is true in education. It's probably true in our society in general, and certainly in our politics, is we don't say both and enough, that it can be both and. So yes, there are undeniable structural and systemic inequities that exist, and those do need to be addressed. And there's also a need for us to help individuals grow and develop in new and different ways. I would add, and now I'm going to get a little autobiographical because I know it connects to some of the research that you've done is I grew up as poor, low income, immigrant kid, no one in the family had gone to college, lived in the Section 8 housing, et cetera. I know for me that having a sense of mission and purpose that illuminated my life was grounded in my ability to help my family and to help my community.

That was invaluable in creating the drive that I needed in order to overcome those systemic barriers. Your point really resonated, you don't need to have, all of a sudden, the world has to become perfect and equal and all the things many of us want it to be for folks to find ways to thrive. At the same time, as your prescribing, as these developmental psychology grounded frameworks, you do need to acknowledge the structural barriers that exist. In that way, if for no other reason, so more people can hear you.

TBS: I couldn't agree more. We first need to really focus on those structural changes. There is no other way to bring about society-wide change. All the stories that people give and the examples, and again, you are one of those examples, are so important because they can help others do the same. Because once they see a role model, they realize the question changes from is it possible to how is it possible? That's an important shift to make. The role models are important. At the same time, it's not enough.

MMF: It's not enough.

TBS: We need to create real deep structural societal change.

MMF: I absolutely agree. One of the ways that perhaps we can contribute to creating that structural societal change is this notion of schools and education embracing the challenge of ensuring that more people have happiness and pursue it. We have this famous document in this country, and it has these words, "The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." If we honor those words, especially that pursuit of happiness, do our institutions like schools have a responsibility to teach happiness?

TBS: I'll give you a short answer, a one-word answer, a two-word answer, and then a much longer answer. The one-word answer is yes. The two-word answer is absolutely, yes. Here comes my longer answer. Marty Seligman, who's considered the founder of the field of positive psychology and a mentor of mine, when he speaks with parents and teachers, he always begins with the following two questions. The first question is the things that you would like for your children. Then parents, teachers say, "I want them to be happy." It's usually the first one. "I want them to have good relationships. I want them to be resilient. I want them to find their passions and to have meaning in life," and on and on. Then he says, "Now, question number two, list number two, what do children learn in school?" On the board, the three Rs and geography and history and science and whatever. There's almost no overlap between the two lists, and that's unfortunate. Now, this is not to say that the second list is not important. It's extremely important.

But why are schools or why have schools historically, by and large, ignored the first list? Now, more understandable in the past. But today, we have a science of happiness. We have evidence-based tools and techniques that can help students become happier, become more resilient, cultivate better relationships, take better care of their physical health. We have evidence-based interventions. Why not teach those? Especially given two things. First of all, they're good in and of themselves. Second, they will also contribute to the second list. Because students who have more of a sense of meaning and purpose, and again, that doesn't need to be a grandiose society-changing sense of meaning and purpose. But if they have some meaning and purpose, they'll study better, they'll work harder. If we improve their relationships, they will perform better at school. Beyond being happier, they'll also perform better at school. The two are interconnected. This is why, absolutely yes, we need to introduce that as part of the curriculum. This is the responsibility of schools, of individual teachers, and of course society.

If the elements of happiness can be measured and taught, then schools may be able to adopt happiness as a subject, rather like history or science.

MMF: You're saying we can develop happiness rubrics, and we can measure this and we can assess it even?

TBS: Absolutely. Again, no different than teaching mathematics or writing. We can measure it, we can teach it, we can increase it over time with results.

MMF: There's a big movement around social-emotional learning, and having that more front and center in education these days. What you're saying is happiness is a key part of that.

TBS: Absolutely so, and the most important thing when we introduce whether it's SEL, whether it's happiness, we need to measure. There are also many ideas in this area which are not evidence-based, in fact which can lead to more harm than good. Let me give you a very simple example. There's a lot of talk about visualization and how important that is. If you can visualize yourself successful, you'll become successful. Many teachers I know are introducing this practice in the classroom.

MMF: This is like The Secret kind of stuff?

TBS: Exactly.

MMF: From The Secret? Yep.

TBS: Exactly. The secret, the law of attraction. It turns out that there is real potential for more harm than good in this practice. If you just imagine yourself successful, you're less likely to be successful and you're more likely to experience frustration, and I'm not talking about the healthy frustration that helps you grow. However, and there's research by a UCLA professor, Shelley Taylor, showing that when you visualize outcome and before that you visualize the path on your way to the outcome, that's when it's actually helpful. Again, this is a small shift that is based on evidence that can help millions and billions of students actually attain more success. If I just imagine myself getting the law degree, that's my dream. That's one thing. If I imagine myself getting the law degree and imagining myself in the library studying, working hard, putting in the effort, and here we get, of course, to both Carol Dweck's work and Angela Duckworth's work, then I'm much more likely to be successful. Then this exercise intervention is likely to be helpful.

MMF: Dweck and Duckworth would all always say that the big ingredient is that effective effort that is required. It's not just about the mindset, but it's about the application of effective effort. What you're saying is that's right, that's what you should be visualizing too, is the effective effort that will create the outcome that you also vision.

TBS: Matthew, if I can say one more thing about this. Rick Snyder was a psychologist who did a lot of research on hope theory. The way he defined hope was quite unique. He said hope comprises two elements. The first element is what we call willpower. Willpower is about saying, "Yes, we can," or saying," I can do it. I'm going to do it. I'm capable," and so on. The clenched fist kind of confidence. That is very important. However, he says that's not enough. In addition to willpower, you need way power. Way power is, "Yes, I can, and here is how I'm going to do it. If that doesn't work, here is how I'm going to do it." This is plan C, if that doesn't work. It reminds me I was watching, I think it was Wimbledon a few years ago, and Serena Williams had just come back from a one set down deficits and two breaks down as Serena Williams knows how to do.

She was interviewed afterwards, and the interviewer asked her, "How did you do it, or how do you do it?" Because that's not the first, nor was it the last time that she did it. Her answer struck me because she said, "Whenever I go in court, I have a plan A. That sometimes doesn't work, but I always have a plan B. That's sometimes doesn't work either, and then I have a plan C and a D." Do you understand what I mean here? She has plans and plans. This is way power. Of course, she has willpower more than anyone we know probably, but she also has way power. This yes we can, and this is how I'm going to do it, or this or that.

MMF: You've also talked a lot about and written about this notion of that central happiness, which is allowing yourself or giving yourself permission to be human. I think about teachers right now, particularly in the midst of this crisis, and all the challenges that they are managing and confronting and how folks are struggling with and dealing with new system, new ways of doing things. Technology that doesn't always work and cooperate the way you want to, students that are having unique challenges during this time. Say a little bit about this notion of permission to be human and how it connects to what we were just talking about, the applicability of happiness in schools.

TBS: There are quite a few misconceptions about what a happy life is. The misconception that reigns supreme is the belief that a happy life means a life devoid of painful emotions, that to be happy means we have to be happy all the time. There are only two kinds of people, in fact, who do not experience painful emotions, such as sadness or anger or frustration or anxiety or envy or hatred, two kinds of people who do not experience these painful emotions. The first kind are the psychopaths. The second kind of people who don't experience painful emotions are dead. If we experience painful emotions, it's actually a good sign. It means we're not a psychopath and we're alive. We can build on that. The thing is it's very important to acknowledge that, to give ourselves the permission to experience the full range of human emotions, because if we don't or rather when we don't, these painful emotions intensify. They grow stronger.

If I'm experiencing anxiety over the current situation, and I say to myself, "Tal, come on, you shouldn't be anxious. You're a happiness expert. Get over it," that anxiety will only grow. It will intensify. Where in contrast, if I embrace the anxiety, and I say, "Oh, I'm not a psychopath, and I'm alive. Yay," and express the emotions by talking about it, by shedding a tear, by writing about it. When I express the emotion, it does not overstay its welcome. There's a beautiful poem written almost 800 years ago by Rumi, the Sufi poet, called "The Guest House." In "The Guest House," Rumi writes about how we need to embrace, accept, invite in all emotions, no matter what they are. Then he says as if they're messengers from the beyond. Now, whether they're messengers from the beyond or not, I don't know. That's above my pay grade. However, what we do know is that when we embrace them, when we invite them in as guests, that is the best way, by far, of dealing with painful emotions.

MMF: Tal, our podcast is entitled Shaping the Future. We're future-focused. We're focused on helping young people in particular, take hold and be prepared for that future. I want to understand from you, how do we make a happier generation and what are some of the things you're doing now to help that come about?

TBS: To help create a happier generation, we need to put certain practices in place. Ideas are great, but if they're not applied, what's the point? So what does that actually look like? To introduce classes in school that just as the classes teach the three Rs, they would also teach the science of happiness within existing classes. Introduce ideas from the science of happiness. For example, when you teach literature, also introduce concepts and ask questions such as, so how is that relevant to your life? Now, what that will do is students will become more interested in the content whether they study Shakespeare or Maryanne Evans, or Chinua Achebe, or Greek mythology, or Chinese philosophy.

When they studied and they ask or are asked, "So how is that relevant to your life? Where does it meet you? How can it improve the quality of your relationship with your parents, with your best friend?" Then what we're doing is taking their thinking to the next level, and by next level I mean to the real world. It's no longer just a theoretical analysis of the texts that I have to spew during exams. It becomes relevant to their lives. Make it relevant to their happiness, to their wellbeing and to the elements that make up wellbeing such as relationships, such as learning, such as work. That's the most important thing, introduce it in school and make it relevant.

MMF: And integrate it within the academic learning. That's the other thing.

TBS: Absolutely. I'm not against academic learning. I'm not against hard work. I'm not against ambition. I'm not even against grades. Abraham Maslow was, and he was usually right, but here I actually disagree with him. However, I am for SEL or happiness or mindfulness training, and include these as parts of the curriculum. It will only help the traditional form of education.

MMF: We're coming up on time here. You and I can go on for the whole day. Tell us a little bit about the Happiness Studies Academy.

TBS: Five years ago, I was on a flight back in the days when we used to fly. Remember those?

MMF: Yeah, back then.

TBS: BC, before corona.

MMF: BC. Yes.

TBS: A question suddenly came to me, and the question was, how is it that there is a field of study for education and for psychology, which is my field, for history, biology, literature, and there is no field of study for happiness? Yeah, there is positive psychology, but that's just the psychology of happiness. What about what philosophers had to say about happiness and theologians had to say about the good life and neuroscientists and literature and film, why isn't there a field or rather an interdisciplinary field of study that addresses the path to the good life, to happiness, broadly defined? Again, we're not just talking about pleasurable emotions here. On that flight, I decided to help create a field of study.

My colleagues and I had been working on this for the past five years. Three years ago, we launched the Happiness Studies Academy. Soon this will be...We offer certificate programs. We offer programs for schools that can introduce happiness studies into their curriculum, and soon there is to be also academic degrees in happiness studies, and interdisciplinary field that brings together science and the humanities, history, economics, as well as psychology of course, to bear a light on a very important question that Aristotle talked about it, that the Lautu talked about, and that is how can we lead a full and fulfilling life, a happy life?

MMF: A happy life.

TBS: And how can we help others do the same?

MMF: Tal, that seems like something worthy of scholarship and study. I look forward to the day that some of the students that are in the classroom supported by the educators that are listening get master's degrees in happiness. Tal, tell us, what's next for you?

TBS: Right now I'm working on two books. One book, which will be called Happier No Matter What is about anti-fragility, and how we can grow through hardship by applying the ideas from the science of happiness. The second book is An Introduction to Happiness Studies, which essentially lays out the SPIRE framework, draws on different disciplines and asks how we can apply it first to education, then to the workplace and to society.

MMF: Great. Look forward to those. I've enjoyed reading some of your other books, so really looking forward to that.

TBS: Thank you. Thank you, Matthew, and thank you for all the amazing and important work that you're doing.

MMF: Thank you very much. Take care.

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Keep an eye out for Tal's upcoming publications: Happier No Matter What and An Introduction to Happiness Studies.

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