I got a WhatsApp chain letter which reproduced the text in this Linked In blog article:

Did you know that at Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the most popular and successful course teaches you how to learn to be happier? The Positive Psychology class taught by Ben Shahar attracts 1400 students per semester and 20% of Harvard graduates take this elective course.

According to Ben Shahar, the class - which focuses on happiness, self-esteem and motivation - gives students the tools to succeed and face life with more joy._This 35-year-old teacher, considered by some to be "the happiness guru", highlights in his class 14 key tips for improving the quality of our personal status and contributing to a positive life:

🚩Tip 1. * Thank God for everything you have: * Write down 10 things you have in your life that give you happiness. Focus on the good things!

Most of the tips are common sense. However, saying "Thank God for ..." seems too religious for "psychology". Ben Shahar may be religious but he may not be that religious when teaching course.

Tip 14 sounds a lot like typical christian "spins" rather than serious college lectures.

Tip 14. * Fervently believe in God *: With him nothing is impossible! Happiness is like a remote control, we lose it every time, we go crazy looking for it and many times without knowing it, we are sitting on top of it ...

[13 more tips]

Is there a Harvard teacher, Ben Shahar, that teaches these tips?

Some of the comments in the blog doubt that Ben Shahar taught that.

Let me quote

Mich Zúñiga Bravo Músico Guitarrista Compositor.

The tip number 14 don´t belong to Ben Sahar's teachings 1mo Dr Shohail Choudhury, MBAM, MCMI, FHEA Visiting Lecturer at Coventry University London

This are not BenSahar's teachings.

Advice from Tal Ben-Shahar on Happiness are as follows:

Lesson 1 Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions—such as fear, sadness, or anxiety—as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness. We are a culture obsessed with pleasure and believe that the mark of a worthy life is the absence of discomfort; and when we experience pain, we take it to indicate that something must be wrong with us. In fact, there is something wrong with us if we don't experience sadness or anxiety at times--which are human emotions. The paradox is that when we accept our feelings—when we give ourselves the permission to be human and experience painful emotions—we are more likely to open ourselves up to positive emotions.... .... Lesson 7 Prioritize relationships. The number one predictor of happiness is the time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. The most important source of happiness may be the person sitting next to you. Appreciate them, savor the time you spend together.

  • 7
    Full name Tal Ben-Shahar, but that Wikipedia page is only marginally helpful - its tone is just as positive as Ben-Shahar's psychology, and it seems to have been written by him or one of his acolytes. It could use one of those big "some issues" banners at the top. Anyway, your "too Christian" comment is a bit ironic since Ben-Shahar is apparently Jewish. – Nate Eldredge Sep 21 '18 at 20:37
  • 3
    What's the actual claim that your skeptical of? That he said that last line, that he's a real person, some other quote about believing in God to be happy that you haven't posted? Tal Ben-Shahar is a real person, who seems to have a real PhD and lectured at the real Harvard, and he's written some sappy 'positive psychology' books so he's probably said something similar to those 14 generic self-help book lines. – Giter Sep 21 '18 at 20:41
  • @Giter: it's not common even for positive psychologists to invoke God in their lectures. And Harvard is not a religious school. As for their private beliefs, only about 10% of psychologists believe in God: psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201403/… – Fizz Sep 22 '18 at 18:30
  • ... unconditionally. From the actual study, considering the Likert-scale responses: "differences in the religiosity measures for economists and psychologists are not significantly different from physicists. " – Fizz Sep 22 '18 at 18:38

In short, the class was real and Tal D. Ben-Shahar did teach it. The tips are likely not directly quoting him due to the grammar errors/unidiomatic phrasing. I'm not sure where it came from; some of the tips sound somewhat similar to things Ben-Shahar has actually said/written. The first tip in particular sounds like a mishmash of his suggestion to write 5 things you're thankful for before bed each day and the fact that he believes that religious people are generally happier.

An archived copy of the Harvard website lists the course:

Positive Psychology

Spring 2006

Tal D. Ben-Shahar

Location: Memorial Hall Sanders Theatre
Meeting Time: Tu., Th., 11:30-1 and a weekly section to be arranged.

Some of the class materials can be found here. It looks like all the lectures are on YouTube here.

This class was Harvard's most popular class, and he also taught the third most popular class, Psychology of Leadership (both mentioned in his bio on Harvard's site). The claim that the "Positive Psychology class taught by Ben Shahar attracts 1400 students per semester and 20% of Harvard graduates take this elective course" is wrong, but the truth isn't that far off:

After Positive Psychology, Harvard's next most popular course this semester is an economics class with 669 students; and the third most popular class is another psychology course taught by Ben-Shahar that has 550 students.

Between his two courses, Ben-Shahar is teaching more than 1,400 students. Although some may be taking both classes, it appears Ben-Shahar is teaching at least a fifth of Harvard College's undergraduate population of about 6,500.
The Boston Globe

Ben-Shahar no longer teaches at Harvard. In 2012 he moved back to Israel to teach there, according to this article. (Although I can't find a source to confirm it explicitly, he is almost certainly Jewish.) The Jerusalem Post mentions his thoughts on being religious:

Fortunately for Israelis, one of the keys to becoming happier lies in their own religious tradition, because religious people, notes Ben-Shahar, are generally happier than non-religious people.

It mentions he suggests writing down things you're thankful for:

[...] "There is an exercise I recommend that my students do every night before going to bed," says Ben-Shahar. "Write down at least five things you are thankful for." Taking out a little notebook from his briefcase, he flips through the worn pages until he reaches the one he used the night before, which reveals a scribbled list including God, his wife, his son and seeing his infant daughter smile for the first time. "I do it every night," he adds. "People who regularly express gratitude are more optimistic, more successful and happier."

The article also quotes him talking about exercise, which is what one of the tips said:

Regular exercise, defined by Ben-Shahar as 30 minutes three times a week, is vital and has an impact similar to that of the most powerful psychiatric drugs on our well-being. Meditating or doing yoga for even 15 minutes a day can actually change the structure of the brain, he explains, shifting activity to the left prefrontal cortex, proven for years to have high activity in happier people. "We don't have much time for physical activity or for family and friends in our modern world," Ben-Shahar points out. "Most of us sit in front of computer screens all day, and that's one of the reasons why depression levels today are so high."

One of his books mentions that music "can carry us towards our most authentic self", which is slightly similar to another tip.

  • 1
    Was he ever an actual "Professor" at Harvard? His Ph.D. was 2004, and two years seems mighty quick to go all the way to Professor. – GEdgar Sep 22 '18 at 0:21
  • 2
    @GEdgar "Formerly Lecturer in Psychology", according to Harvard. (However, "professor" is used informally to mean "any instructor", so it's not really something I saw as intentionally misleading.) – Laurel Sep 22 '18 at 0:55
  • @GEdgar: The word "professor" was introduced by the OP (since edited out), not the claimant. – Oddthinking Sep 22 '18 at 3:11
  • I really think the original quotes should be in the question. Someone in the comment of the blog says it's not what he said. This question does not actually answer the question. Is it a quote? Not a direct quote? Did someone paraphrase? If so, is the paraphrasing objective? – user4951 Sep 23 '18 at 17:56
  • It may make sense to be grateful. However, to specifically says thank God, is quite problematic. It may be true that Ben Shahar said that. However, it's more of something said by typical born again christian rather than a jew. – user4951 Sep 23 '18 at 17:57

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