Magazine article Psychology Today

Deconstructing a Smile

Magazine article Psychology Today

Deconstructing a Smile

Article excerpt

WHAT IS BEAUTIFUL, SACRED AND TOUGH TO STUDY?

CAN YOU PURSUE Mona Lisa's ethereal mystery by digging up her bones? A team of art historians last winter descended on the remains of a Franciscan convent in Florence, hoping to exhume skull fragments belonging to Lisa Gherardini, "La Gioconda," so as to reconstruct her face and further probe her identity. If the team succeeds, it will be one more blip in 500 years of inquiry, findings that are always greeted with the same skepticism: Empirics cannot satisfy the yearning to comprehend the Mona Lisa, or alter appreciation of the work's majesty.

The scholarly study of well-being faces a similar criticism. As pop culture's happiness juggernaut continues unabated, so too do the naysayers who claim that wellbeing cannot be effectively deconstructed. As with the Mona Lisa herself, it can seem impossible to tease apart the complexities of self-portrait (in happiness-speak, "self-talk"), genius (genes), and mastery of subject matter (our own lives!).

But as our cover story coauthor Todd Kashdan points out, the inherent difficulty in studying happiness, and the importance with which we imbue it, make it all the more critical to examine. …

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