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Raghunathan Blogs on Happiness for Psychology Today

Some academics become pigeonholed in a narrow field of study, focusing their scholarly energy on one area throughout their entire career. That is not a concern for Raj Raghunathan, an associate professor of marketing at McCombs School of Business, who has written about an eclectic range of topics, including religion, professional ambition, gender politics and even the plight of burnout actor Charlie Sheen.

happy facesIn March, Raghunathan launched a blog for Psychology Today, taking on the modest task of defining the nature of human happiness.

Raghunathan’s widespread interests have roots in his educational background. After earning an engineering degree and an MBA in his native India, he became fascinated with the social and psychological aspects of business. He earned a Ph.D. in marketing from New York University, specializing in consumer behavior and consumer psychology — topics that heavily influence both his academic research and his contributions to the new blog, which he named Sapient Nature. The blog focuses on the general theme of happiness, including its biological roots, how we understand it and how it can be maximized.

“My main interest is in the relationship between emotions and people’s behaviors,” Raghunathan says. “How do the things people do influence how they feel?”

Many of the posts on Sapient Nature are informal analyses of topics that relate to human behavior in a social context. One article titled “Are Women Their Own Worst Enemies?” compares the different ways men and women compete with members of their own gender. In another post, Raghunathan describes the ties between happiness and intelligence, concluding that many people say they want to be happy but still make self-defeating choices.

He is not afraid to steer into controversial territory. In one recent post, Raghunathan explores a theory that a person’s belief in God, or lack thereof, is largely tied to the amount of stress in his or her life. As an extension of that idea, he suggests that perhaps there is no such thing as a pure atheist or a pure believer.

“Everyone — even the most hardcore atheists, I think — will start believing in God if put under a high amount of stress,” Raghunathan writes. “This means that no one is a complete atheist or, for that matter, a complete believer in God. Each of us has a propensity to be somewhere on that continuum. And even a hardcore atheist may exhibit belief in God if he feels his life is sufficiently broken.”

The article has prompted a lively debate with nearly 300 reader comments so far, many of them critical of his hypothesis. But Raghunathan is not swayed by his critics. In fact, he welcomes the exchange of perspectives that can result from sharing cutting-edge ideas that haven’t been lab-tested—something the Internet makes possible. His aim with Sapient Nature is to generate a public dialogue about the topics he researches, even before official studies have been completed.

“I wanted to be part of the process of disseminating information; I also wanted to use the audience’s reactions to refine some of my own thinking,” Raghunathan says.

He believes it is important to explore issues that some might consider unscientific because valuable information about human nature could be lost without further study. “In that threat that people feel, there lies an opportunity,” he says. “To me, no hypothesis is nonscientific; it’s the approach you use in examining the hypothesis that could be less or more scientific. And every hypothesis deserves a good, thorough examination. If it fails to be supported, then discard it — but don’t discard it before you’ve done that.”

Raghunathan plans to continue the debate about belief in God in a book he is working on, which he summarizes as “a recipe for agnostics.” He expects the book to get people talking even more.

“I think there will be a lot of push-back, both from the religious community and perhaps from the scientific community,” he says. “I don’t feel particularly discouraged or threatened by that possibility, so I’m going to put these thoughts down and see what happens.”

Comments

#1 "Raghunathan explores a

"Raghunathan explores a theory that a person’s belief in God, or lack thereof, is largely tied to the amount of stress in his or her life. As an extension of that idea, he suggests that perhaps there is no such thing as a pure atheist or a pure believer." I just love this statement each one is really unique in their perspective.

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