Peng Kaiping Attends the Humanitas Tsinghua Forum

FW: 6th June, 2017 Tsinghua University


The experience of happiness is an insurgent flow. I hope the word “flow” can be included into the Xinhua Dictionary in 30 years.

In the night of 5th June, Prof. Peng Kaiping, Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Director of the Department of Psychology of Tsinghua University attended the Humanitas Tsinghua Forum, sharing with the field audience his reflections and inspirations of the “solution of happiness” from the view of positive psychology. His lecture was concluded in the melody of What a Wonderful World, a famous song of the distinguished American black jazz singer Louis Armstrong. It’s also the favorite song of Prof. Peng, expressing his positive pursuit for happiness.

In the one-hour-and-a-half lecture, Prof. Peng analyzed, humorously and vividly, common misunderstandings of happiness and the psychological crisis facing the current Chinese society. “Happiness is neither a visional concept nor a simple satisfaction that can be obtained with money or given by others or acquired by paying attention to your own benefit. Instead, happiness is the joy that really makes sense.”

China ranks merely 79th in the UN’s World Happiness Report 2017. Prof. Peng believes major reasons behind it are the severely insufficient social charitable donations, the absence of basic social trust and the poor subjective well-being. While the whole Chinese society needs to build positive energy and strengthen people’s well-being, Peng Kaiping is always thinking about what the Department of Psychology should do to make contributions to guiding social progress and people’s well-being of China.

“The Department of Psychology is willing to carry forward positive psychology and scientific psychology and strive to make technological explorations. As a result, we have founded the first happiness technology laboratory in the world, with the hope to improve the psychology science development of Tsinghua using its interdisciplinary advantages and to establish the world-leading psychological science using the advantages of Tsinghua University and Chinese traditional culture.”

Peng Kaiping agrees China performs well in such mandatory quotas as political strength, military strength, average life span and medical treatment, health and insurance, but with shortcomings in three important psychological indicators. First, only a small part of Chinese people are willing to do charity or make charitable donations; in particular, China ranks the last one by the donating ratio of the rich. Second, the poor social trust leads to social hostile attribution tendency. The third one is subjective well-being. When asking Chinese people are you happy, the answer is “I don’t know” in most cases.

Hence, Peng Kaiping stressed psychological construction, development and adjustment is a curriculum China must make up after the reform and opening-up and economic progress; psychological construction should be even superior to social construction.

Peng Kaiping has led the team of the Department of Psychology to conduct many studies on network mentality. Their research findings suggest 80% of Chinese people cannot gain happiness from work. Peng Kaiping gave a solution that your understanding of work can be changed in spite of the unalterable external environment; you can try to regard work as a tool and method of happiness, or as a very important source of significance.


What’s happiness?

In the opinion of Prof. Peng, happiness isn’t a visional concept, a simple satisfaction or chicken soup for the soul; instead, it is positioned as brain science, with the function of neurotransmitter, economic and social effects and also visible and touchable data changes. Happiness is joy that makes sense, as defined by Prof. Peng.

At first, happiness is absolutely not a visional concept; in fact, happiness has a material and physiological foundation, and is closely associated with at least three very important physical signs. One is that a happy person cannot have activities with excessive negative emotions. The amygdaloid nucleus is the center for the processing of human negative information. When a person is unhappy, anxious or scared, his amygdaloid nucleus will get congested to generate many unpleasant emotions. So happiness requires the absence of excessive activities of the amygdaloid nucleus. The second very important sign is that happiness requests necessarily the secretion of neurotransmitters. There is a particularly important neural processing center in the brain called VTA, which secretes neurochemical hormones endorphin, dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin that are closely related to our experience of happiness. So, it’s visible and touchable.

In addition to these emotional signs, nevertheless, happiness has an exceptionally important significance in humanity—prefrontal cortex is a very important area for the experience of happiness. “Different from the feeling of pleasure, we feel about wisdom and humanity, and have deep understandings of and are satisfied with life when we are happy. You’ll definitely agree the state of joy at that time is valuable and significant, is recognizable and acceptable by the society and is what you’re willing to share with others. It’s called the sense of meaning.”


More than 1,000 people, including teachers, postgraduates and undergraduates of and those outside Tsinghua University, were present at the lecture. After the lecture was finished, Peng Kaiping had interactions and communications with the audience.