The positive psychology movement was born in the late 1990s when a handful of American psychologists shifted their research away from mental illness and dysfunction and toward the mysteries of human resilience and optimism. Among other things, the Tsinghua University conference will investigate how positive psychology can improve life in China's households, workplaces and educational institutions. It will also explore ties between mental health and spirituality.
"Many people in China feel uncertain about the future," Peng said. "We want to do more than just talk about depression and mental illness. We want to figure out how to improve their emotional outlook and bring the wisdoms of Buddhism and other religions to the scientific study of happiness."
While psychology in China has enjoyed a renaissance in recent decades, psychiatry and neuroscience are still taken more seriously than social psychology and research into the neurobiological roots of positive emotions, Peng said.
But that mindset may be shifting as a string of high-profile suicides and homicides have raised the question of how people in China are faring in the face of rapid economic growth and social change.
The Berkeley-Tsinghua conference has generated so much interest and curiosity, Peng noted, that two other positive psychology conferences have been scheduled in China around the same time. One is being hosted by Beijing Normal University from Aug. 13-15.
"People love this idea. They want to copy it," said Peng, who grew up during Mao Zedong's cultural revolution, a time when psychology was considered a Western-biased pseudoscience.
The story of how Peng brought psychology back to Tsinghua University is something of a fairytale. His father, a college professor, was sent to the Chinese countryside durin
|Contact: Yasmin Anwar|
University of California - Berkeley