Hello BFC community—I’m the new host of the Science of Virtues podcast and will occasionally be contributing to the blog, so I thought I’d take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Emily Esfahani Smith and I’m a writer and editor based in Washington D.C., where I’ll soon be starting a Ben Franklin Circle. I’m also the author of the book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters, which is very much in line with the BFC concept (but I’ll save that for another post!).
I first learned about the Ben Franklin Circles project after reading an article by one of its founders, William Damon of Stanford University. I immediately fell in love with the concept.
What could be better, after all, than getting together with your friends and peers to talk about how to live a more meaningful life?
Many of the ideas that come up in BFCs—character, community, and purpose, for example—had been on my mind before I read Bill’s essay and learned of this project. For the last few years, I have been studying and writing about a relatively new field called positive psychology, the scientific study of the good life. I’m willing to bet that anyone who is interested in the BFCs will also be interested in positive psychology. (If you don’t know much about the field, here’s a good place to start.)
Instead of focusing on what is wrong with people, as much of psychology does, positive psychology focuses on what’s right.
Positive psychology researchers, for example, study what the building blocks of a happy and meaningful life are, how we can cultivate better relationships, and concepts like creativity and grit. A big part of the field looks, specifically, at the virtues, or what researchers sometimes call “strengths of character.” Much of that research has found that living out virtues like gratitude and self-control contribute to well-being—and I’ll write about some of that research on this blog in the weeks and months ahead.
The findings of positive psychology are also consistent with the BFC project in a larger way. One luminary of positive psychology, the late Christopher Peterson of the University of Michigan, once summarized the research on well-being by saying “other people matter.”
In other words, if you want to life a full life, then you have to put other people first. Or, as Ben Franklin put it years ago, “The noblest question in the world is ‘What good may I do in it?’”