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Features

The Science of Happiness

Psychology explores humans at their best.

January-February 2007

Tal Ben-Shahar

Photograph by Jim Harrison


Tal Ben-Shahar

Photograph by Jim Harrison

This doesn’t feel like a normal academic conference. True, the three-day Positive Psychology Summit is a sellout, with 425 attendees thronging the meeting rooms in downtown Washington, D.C. But despite the familiar trappings, something seems different. There’s herbal tea available at breaks, and the conference’s organizer, Shane Lopez of the University of Kansas, walks around smiling and ringing a dinner bell to prompt people to take their seats for the next session. This group is slimmer, healthier, younger, and more female than the usual scholarly crowd. Some stretch in yoga-like postures in the aisles, or recline on friends’ bodies as if resting on a chaise longue. The professional jargon includes recurring words like flow, optimism, resilience, courage, virtues, energy, flourishing, strengths, happiness, curiosity, meaning, subjective well-being, forgiveness, and even joy.