His program, co-founded by assistant professor Jeanne Nakamura, an expert on creativity and mentoring, isn't about quick fixes. Rather than teaching people how to be happy or educating happiness coaches, the school will train graduate students first in statistical methodology and then in specific research techniques. A small group of graduate students, about 10 at first, will use those tools to survey and analyze the variables that affect people's satisfaction. The first group will enroll this fall, and the program has already started receiving inquiries. Candidates from a variety of academic backgrounds will be considered for admission.
Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-Sent-Me-High-ee) isn't the only social scientist working on this subject. Positive psychology has been exploding in popularity. Systematic measurement of well-being is challenging because its definition is elusive. But researchers at Princeton University have been developing a new technique for collecting data about what activities make people feel good and what they find bothersome. Many academics employ an older system that Csikszentmihalyi helped develop called the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). Subjects are beeped (via a pager or hand-held device) at random intervals during the day, usually every few hours, at which point they jot down what they're doing, who they're with and how they feel: bored or very much enjoying themselves.
Csikszentmihalyi, who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Chicago, says findings about happiness often surprise people. Those at work generally report that they wish they were at home, he says, but when they're home they often feel passive, depressed or bored. "They have in mind that free time at home will make them feel better, but often it doesn't,"he says. Group activities and socializing tend to yield more joy. One thing Csikszentmihalyi won't test his new students on is the spelling or pronunciation of his name. "They can just call me Mike," he says. "I keep forgetting how to pronounce it well myself."
Drawing on his research on happiness, Csikszentmihalyi has three general pieces of advice:
• Be attuned to what gives you genuine satisfaction. Although many people assume that popular activities like watching TV are enjoyable, their own reports generally indicate that they feel more engaged, energetic, satisfied and happy when doing other things.
• Study yourself. To better understand their own happiness, Csikszentmihalyi says, people should systematically record their activities and feelings every few hours for a week or two. In recording your observations, try to focus on how you actually feel, rather than what you think you ought to be feeling or what you expect to feel. Afterwards, note the high points, particularly, and the low ones. Then try to adjust how you spend time according to your findings.
• Take control. Repairing unhappy conditions requires active effort. People often assume external conditions will change for the better or let chance determine their response. That's a mistake. "Get control," Csikszentmihalyi says. When things aren't right, "you have to put in the same effort you would if your business were in trouble. Just as markets move, life changes too."