The Science of Happiness/The Feel-Good Curriculum/Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People...(Book Review)

Reviews several books about psychology. 'The Science of Happiness: Unlocking The Mysteries Of Mood,' by Stephen Braun; 'Witness: Voices From The Holocaust,' edited by Joshua Greene and Shiva Kumar; 'A Terrible Thing Happened,' by Margaret Holmes.

By Paul Chance, published on May 1, 2000 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

Bookworms

THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS/THE FEEL-GOOD CURRICULUM/ UNSPEAKABLE
ACTS, ORDINARY PEOPLE... (BOOK REVIEW)

In The Science Of Happiness: Unlocking The Mysteries Of Mood
(Wiley, 2000), science writer Stephen Braun argues that even "normal"
people may soon rely on new drugs to subtly sculpt their mood and
personality, and enhance their overall capacity for happiness. Will this
turn us into a nation of extremely happy but useless twits? Stay
tuned.

American education is prone to fads that come and go without much
impact. But Maureen Stout, Ph.D., assistant professor of Educational
Leadership at California State University in Northridge, says the
self-esteem movement, one of the most widely implemented experiments in
American education, has had a devastating effect on students. In The
Feel-Good Curriculum: The Dumbing-Down Of America's Kids In The Name Of
Self-Esteem (Perseus, 2000), she argues that the preoccupation with how
students feel about themselves has turned schools into clinics and
teachers into counselors, and created children and young adults who are
self-absorbed, arrogant and ignorant.

What sort of people torture others? John Conroy, a journalist known
for his Belfast Diary, on the troubles of the Irish, attempts to answer
this question in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics Of
Torture (Knopf, 2000). Conroy examines well-documented cases of torture
that occurred in Ireland, the United States and Israel. Like others
before him, he concludes that most torturers are normal people--many of
whom could play the victim of their dreams as easily as the barbarian.
The book Witness: Voices From The Holocaust (Free Press, 2000), edited by
educational film producers Joshua Greene and Shiva Kumar, presents
testimonies of victims themselves, which support Conroy's point.

How, in such a fast-paced world, do we prepare young people for
work? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., and Barbara Schneider, Ph.D.,
explore this question in Becoming Adult: How Teenagers Prepare for the
World of Work (Basic Books, 2000). Surveying thousands of high-school
students, the authors found a disturbing amount of wishful thinking: 15%
want to become professional athletes, for example, and 10% expect to
become physicians. Plainly, we need to get better, and quickly, at
preparing our children for what's to come--if only we can figure out what
that is.

Children who witness traumatic events, such as fires, airplane
crashes and violence, often suffer long after the event, sometimes more
intensely than the victims themselves. What can you do to help children
who have seen something had happen? A little book written by Margaret
Holmes and illustrated by Cary Pillo may help. Intended for children age
4 to 8, A Terrible Thing Happened (Magination Press, 2000) depicts a
likeable-looking raccoon named Sherman who "saw the most terrible thing."
The book never reveals what Sherman saw, but it doesn't matter; it tells
how Sherman had trouble sleeping, lost his appetite, had nightmares and
treated others meanly--all things real children often do after witnessing
traumatic events. An afterword by Sasha Mudlaff, M.A., a professional
grief counselor, provides additional tips for parents.

Adapted by Ph.D.