Harvard Announces Plans to Open a Center for Happiness

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Harvard University wants to figure out what makes people happy and why. Taking a sustained, multidisciplinary approach to the study of happiness, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has announced plans to launch the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness. The Atlantic reports that the center will promote and study “positive psychological wellbeing,” recruiting anthropologists, biologists, and psychologists to contribute their unique viewpoints.

The Center for Happiness was made possible by a donation from the Lee Kum Kee company, and is named for Lee Kum Sheung, the inventor of oyster sauce. Its goal is to observe and analyze positive elements of social environment—like health, lifestyle, and relationships—in order to discern not only what qualities improve overall happiness, but whether happiness can be linked to other specific health benefits.

While there has been extensive public health research into negative psychological, physical, and social phenomena like unhealthy diet and disease, less research has been done on the positive phenomena which can improve quality of life. Researchers believe that the study of happiness could contribute significantly to understandings of disease, psychological welfare, and even help inform public policy.

The Center will study the ways everything from social media and TV to income and systemic inequality affect emotional wellbeing. Through the framework of happiness, they hope to address wide-ranging issues, and even, eventually, identify a measurement index for systematically and scientifically quantifying happiness.

“Would you rather live a long, happy, and healthy life, or a life that is merely without disease?” Laura Kubzansky, co-director of the new center asked in a press release. “Medical and psychological practice and research have traditionally focused on the diseases and deficits that cause poor health. But there is real value in focusing on the positive side as well—the assets that keep us healthy or help us recover more quickly from disease and injury. More rigorous research is urgently needed to understand these positive assets and how to promote them for millions of people around the world.”

[h/t The Atlantic]