Looking at Jewish Positive Psychology through the 3,000-year-old lens of Jewish thought

Posted Friday, Oct 31st, 2014

 LAKE MARY—When Israeli-born psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar began teaching a class called Positive Psychology at Harvard in 2006, a record 855 undergraduate students signed up for his class. Droves of students at the academically intense university came to learn, as the course description puts it, about “psychological aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life.”

Speaking to the Harvard crimson, Prof. Ben-Shahar attributed the class’ high numbers to one simple factor: “…People want to be happy. Whether it is at Harvard or any other place, people want to be happier. There are over 200 campuses just in the United States alone where positive psychology is being taught, and on most campuses it is one of the, if not the, largest class.”

Over the last 50-odd years modern psychology has focused predominantly on mental illness, yet in recent years the emphasis has begun to pivot away from what makes life miserable, toward the positive: What makes life worth living? What makes happy people happy? And while this may be a relatively new topic for psychologists, it’s one that was addressed by Jewish wisdom and mysticism centuries ago.

Beginning this November, the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) will present How Happiness Thinks: Jewish Perspectives on Positive Psychology, the institute’s new six-session fall 2014 course.

The course will be offered in two locations:

Oakmonte Village, 1001 Royal Gardens Cir. Lake Mary, Fla.

Six Mondays beginning Nov. 3 – Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Chabad of South Orlando instructed by Rabbi Yosef Konikov, 7504 Universal Blvd. Orlando, Fla.

Six Tuesdays beginning Nov. 11 – Dec. 16, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Rabbi Zalman Abraham of JLI’s headquarters in New York says that being happy can depend on one’s perspective, explaining, “How Happiness Thinks is based on the premise that to be happy, you can either change the world, or you can change your thinking.”

While drawing on 3,000 years of Jewish wisdom on happiness, the course, which was prepared in partnership between JLI and the Washington School of Psychiatry, builds on the latest observations and discoveries in the field of positive psychology. How Happiness Thinks offers participants the chance to earn up to 15 continuing education credits from the American Psychological Association (APA), American Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), California Board of Behavioral Sciences (CBBS), Social Work Board of the State of Maryland, and the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).

“How Happiness Thinks brings together modern research in positive psychology and ancient Jewish wisdom,” explains Prof. Ben-Shahar, a renowned expert in the field who has authored five books and today teaches at IDC Herzliya, “This marriage between theology and science can bring about significant positive change in individuals and communities.”

The course explores to what degree surroundings and circumstances effect ones overall happiness, potential challenges to living a joyous life, and whether G-d cares if people are happy or not.

“The course focuses on ways to overcome the challenges that get in the way of our happiness, including stress, grief and self-concept,” says Rabbi Yanky Majesky the local JLI instructor in Lake Mary. “But we’re also going to discuss techniques to boost our happiness such as humility, gratitude and meaningful living.”

Responding to those that said his class was too easy for an institution as academically rigorous as Harvard, Prof. Ben-Shahar told the Boston Globe that it might seem that way, but only because of the deep effect the subject had on the participant’s lives. “Most things we find interesting, we also find easy.”

Like all previous JLI programs, How Happiness Thinks is designed to appeal to people at all levels of Jewish knowledge, including those without any prior experience or background in Jewish learning. All JLI courses are open to the public, and attendees need not be affiliated with a particular synagogue, temple, or other house of worship.

Interested students may call Chabad of North Orlando at 407-878-3011 or Chabad of South Orlando at 407-354-3660 or visithttp://www.myJLI.com for registration and other course-related information. JLI courses are presented in Metro Orlando in conjunction with Chabad of Orlando.


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