First, THANK YOU for the support & encouragement last week on the new edition of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not! You guys are awesome, and your words, help & friendship mean more to me than you know. Thank you!!!
Second, a serious (but interesting) question: Would you lie to be happier? Before you answer, let me tell you what’s prompting this question:
I’m finishing up a book I’ve really enjoyed. It’s about positive psychology – the idea that rather than psychology being entirely about studying & treating what’s wrong or addressing the things that make us sad in life, there are benefits to focusing on what is going well. The overarching idea is that developing a tendency to look on the bright side actually re-wires our brains to notice good things and see difficulties as surmountable challenges, rather than the end of the world. In short, positive psychology is an attempt to connect the dots between “Don’t Worry” & “Be Happy.” I appreciate the effort :)
I’ve read a bunch of similar books – they pop up with some regularity on the shelf at my library and the pretty orange/red/yellow covers are fun to bring home and have around for awhile (I know some folks use house plants for this, but I’ve yet to overwater a book…) This book doesn’t provide much I haven’t read before, but it’s organized in a way that makes the information memorable, and helps me synthesize it and think about how it relates to other things. About halfway through, I decided that the next time I was in a bookstore I’d buy my own copy so I could underline, highlight & scribble notes in the margins (that makes me happy!)
Then I went online to learn more about the author. And I discovered that he may have fibbed/exaggerated/lied (pick the verb you like) about several of his credentials. He mentions Harvard about every third sentence in the book, but that’s standard around here. If you’ve got the Crimson connection, why not flaunt it? I’m okay with that. It was interesting reading his descriptions of his research there, his time on campus as a student and dorm overseer, lectures he’s given in “Harvard’s most popular class,” students he worked with. The very strong implication was that he worked as a professor teaching & conducting positive psychology research. But that’s not true. He was an undergrad, and then a student at the Divinity School. He was a TA for the professor who taught the popular class. And his research for this book was mainly (from what I can tell) hanging out with students in dorms, observing & talking to them. Which is fine–I didn’t grab the book for his research cred, and it doesn’t change any of his points. But I feel misled. Which is a bummer, because something that made me happy now makes me feel vaguely uneasy.
On a larger scale, it has me asking: Is it worth it to take this risk to reach a professional goal?
Let’s be clear: He didn’t fabricate flat-out falsehoods (how’s THAT for accidental alliteration?) I mean, the guy was at Harvard, he no doubt spoke to students. And he probably even gave talks in the class he TA’d and in the dorm he oversaw. But the gap between that and what a reader imagines from his word choices and descriptions is pretty broad. It’s a risky choice. But it got him a publishing deal and a Ted Talk. So it paid off. If happiness is the currency here, this choice to mislead or exaggerate brought him lots of happiness, and only cost me (and other readers) a little.
(In a fascinating detail, his degree from Harvard Divinity School is in Buddhist and Christian Ethics)
Would you fib/exaggerate/lie if it would bring you LOTS more happiness at little cost to others?