Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt

Professor, Department of Psychology

“The ethos of U.Va. is professional and warm. It’s just a wonderful place to work. I really do feel like I’m part of something larger.”

When Jonathan Haidt was deciding among several teaching opportunities in the mid-1990s, he recalls people saying things like, “Virginia is a class act,” or “the psychology department is one big happy family.” Little did he know the profound effect joining the University would have on his research.

“As soon as I got here, I discovered I’d made the right choice,” he said. “I found that everywhere I went in the University there were smart people willing to help me do the best research I could.”

As a social psychologist, Professor Haidt’s ongoing interest had been moral emotions. However, it was only after reading Thomas Jefferson’s letters that he began to explore “elevation”—the uplifting feeling produced by witnessing acts of beauty and virtue. “I really had this feeling my first year that I was working for Thomas Jefferson,” he said. “It was an ennobling feeling.”

In 2001, Professor Haidt’s inquiry into elevation won him psychology’s largest monetary award, the John Templeton Positive Psychology Prize. The recipient of several University-wide teaching awards as a well as the state’s Outstanding Faculty Award, he credits being in the classroom with helping him develop the approach for his most recent book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.