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Tal Ben-Shahar

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is an internationally renowned teacher and author in the fields of happiness and leadership. After graduating from Harvard with a BA in Philosophy and Psychology and a[…]
  • We were told from a very young age, whether explicitly or implicitly, that happiness stems from success. It’s all about the attainment of the next goal, of the next milestone. And yet, more often than not, achieving these goals does not bring us to a happier place, certainly not in the long-term.
  • One of the issues that people have with the pursuit of happiness is that it’s a selfish endeavor. But is it? When we pursue happiness, oftentimes, we are in a much better place to also help others. The problem though, doesn’t lie in the pursuit of happiness but rather in our concepts. 
  • So is the pursuit of happiness selfish or selfless? According to Harvard professor Tan Ben Shahar, it’s neither and both. It’s self-ful. Selfulness synthesizes the best of both worlds of selfishness and selflessness. The two work together reinforcing one another in an upward spiral of generosity and benevolence.

TAL BEN SHAHAR: I became interested in happiness because of my own unhappiness. It didn't make sense to me because looking at my life from the outside, things looked great. But from the inside, it didn't feel that way.

We were told from a very young age, whether explicitly or implicitly, that it's all about success. It's all about the attainment of the next goal, of the next milestone. And yet, achieving these goals does not bring us to a happier place, certainly not in the long-term. And I wanted to figure out what is it if anything can lead us to a better, happier, more fulfilled existence. And that is what I've been doing over the past 30 years, looking for answers. Now, what drew me to studying happiness was, of course, first and foremost, my personal experience. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be happier.

One of the issues that people have with the pursuit of happiness is that it's a selfish endeavor. Or is it? Because when I pursue happiness, when I contribute to myself, I'm in a much better place to also help others. The problem though, doesn't lie in the pursuit of happiness but rather in our concepts. So is it selfish or selfless? Well, it's neither and both. It's self-ful. Selfulness synthesizes the best of both worlds of selfishness and selflessness. And they work together reinforcing one another in an upward spiral of generosity and benevolence. Because we have mirror neurons in our brain and when we encounter an act of generosity that has an impact on us, we're more likely to then act generously and benevolent. So giving is contagious. Now there is a double standard when it comes to cultivating happiness. In every other endeavor in life, we understand that we need to practice. We need to put in the time.

Similarly with happiness. It's not enough to read a book or hear a lecture or come up with an idea as good as it may be for us to become happier. What do we need to do is invest. Invest time and effort. Invest in finding meaning in what we do in life. Go out and exercise. Engage with text or nature. Invest in our relationships, not just rely on the fact that there is good chemistry or connection, we need to put in the work. When we put in the work that is based on science, on evidence-based ideas, that is when we increase our levels of happiness. And because happiness is contagious, we do the same for others.

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