The march of happiness and positive psychology continues…to China

The march of happiness and positive psychology continues…to China

The ranks of China’s millionaires continue to grow, but the increased wealth has done little to boost the country_ã_s gross domestic happiness, according to psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley. They say the pursuit of prosperity in the nation is fast outpacing mental health and well-being, and are seeking to correct that imbalance by spreading the science of happiness in China.

As part of that effort, UC Berkeley psychologists, along with colleagues at Tsinghua University, are hosting in August China_ã_s first-ever conference on positive psychology. The event is particularly relevant in the wake of China’s Foxconn plant worker suicides and headline-generating knife attacks on preschoolers, conference leaders said.

“We want to switch the focus in China from the gross domestic product to happiness, from the culture of competition to the common good,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Kaiping Peng, founder and director of the Berkeley-Tsinghua Program for Advanced Study in Psychology.

In 2008, Peng and his colleagues rebuilt Tsinghua University_ã_s psychology program, nearly 60 years after the department was dismantled as part of China’s restructuring of higher education along Soviet lines. Psychology is now the third most popular field of study at that university after international finance and accounting, Peng said.

The “First China International Conference on Positive Psychology,” to be held on Aug. 7 and 8 on the Tsinghua University campus in the academic heart of Beijing, has attracted 200 academic papers from 38 countries and is expected to draw more than 400 scholars, teachers and business leaders.

Those presenting their research will include UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, author of “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” and Christopher Peterson, a University of Michigan psychologist and a pioneer of positive psychology. Another high-profile speaker will be Robert Wright, chronicler of evolutionary psychology and author of “The Moral Animal,” which ranked among The New York Times Book Review’s 12 best books of 1994.

The positive psychology movement was born in the late 1990s when a handful of American psychologists shifted their research away from mental illness and dysfunction and toward the mysteries of human resilience and optimism. Among other things, the Tsinghua University conference will investigate how positive psychology can improve life in China’s households, workplaces and educational institutions. It will also explore ties between mental health and spirituality.

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